Monthly Archives: March 2008

Liberals and Libertarians: Common Ground?

I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.              -Doctrine and Covenants 38:27

Agree with thine adversary quickly.                -3 Nephi 12:25 

As a libertarian, I have thought about the many differences between myself and the establishment (liberal and conservative).  I would like to focus on common ground between a 21st Century liberal and a 21st Century libertarian (classical liberal).

Common ground?  Perhaps you do not believe me.  It is true that I have a very difficult time with compulsory state interventionism in nearly any of its forms, be they economic, personal, social, educational, or foreign.  And I do believe that liberals, for the most part, have strong confidence in the ability of the state, through various forms of interventionism, to remedy many ills.

But there are commonalities.  Let me list a few that if I were in, say, Congress, I could work with left-leaning Democrats to accomplish:

1. Greater government transparency.  Too many conservatives have no problem with an opaque government, in matters both foreign and domestic.  Secret CIA activities?  I don’t want to know about it.  Warrantless searches?  Just get the bad guys.  It seems like there’s a lot of shoulder-shrugging or apathy when it comes to many secretive activities.  Liberals, I think, prefer more transparency, at least in larger numbers than conservatives do.  For instance, I consider de-classification of historical documents, including those related to the CIA, Richard Nixon, and the JFK assassination, (largely led by Democrats) to be a victory in government transparency.  An opaque government is no friend of liberty.

2. Investigation of government regulations.  I suppose this could be considered a subset of the first point.  It’s true that most left-leaning liberals are much more optimistic about government regulation than I am.  But I think that there are many who would like to investigate government regulations, past and present, for effectiveness.  What really worked most effectively?  What didn’t?  What unintended consequences resulted?  From a liberal perspective, this type of investigation may show what type of regulations to push forward and which to avoid.  From a libertarian perspective, it’s another piece of quantitative data to show the futility of government regulation.  I could see independent investigations being helpful for both parties.

3. Bring the troops home.  Do I support the troops?  Of course I do.  I want to bring them home and out of harm’s way, especially in conflicts we have no place in.  I think I would have more sympathizers with this perspective from the left than from the right.

4. End corporate welfare.  Government business alliances are getting ridiculously out of hand.  The last thing big businesses need is more government handouts which go largely to the wealthy.  Trickle-down economics needs to stop.  I think there are many liberals that would agree with me here.  Let’s shut down (at least roll back) funding for the corporate state.

5. Oppose military-industrial complex growth.  In general, I think modern-day liberals are more wary of the military-industrial complex than conservatives.  Of course, this could be considered a subset of our corporatism.  I certainly consider it as such.  But it is admittedly a special case.

6. End federal flood insurance.  This may be harder going for me, as there are low-income individuals that live in waterfront areas (i.e. New Orleans).  But considering the huge number of the uber-wealthy which benefit from having their seaside homes with subisidized government flood insurance, I think at least a trim-down would be in order.

7. Balance the budget.  I’d like to think that there are some Democrats who seriously believe in a balanced budget, and have issue with the deficit spending culture we now have, borrowing billions from the Chinese, printing money, etc.

8. Defend civil liberties.  I’d also like to think that the opposition from the left to warrantless searches and renditions and torture is more than just political rhetoric, and that there is sincerity of conviction.  I hate to say it, but rarely from the establishment right do I hear concern about such things as “civil liberties,” and with a government that has never been bigger, and never more watchful over its citizens, this disturbs me. 

9. Push diplomacy over war.  The Democrats, I think, are at least slightly more willing to engage in dialogue and at least slightly more reluctant to pre-emptively attack than the establishment Republicans.  Some, admittedly, are much more willing to engage in dialogue and much more reluctant to engage in pre-emptive conflict.

Of course, under government transparency, there are a whole host of secretive activities that could be less secretive, but the CIA and the Federal Reserve come quickly to mind as two of the more significantly shadowy operations.  The government is so large that there are many different possible ways to increase transparency.  I could come up with dozens or possibly hundreds of proposals both liberals and libertarians could agree on.

There are many other common concerns, like the environment, poverty, the domination of special interests, and nuclear weapons proliferation.  Perhaps some common ground can be reached in these areas as well.

In conclusion, despite a relatively large philosophical disparity between liberals and libertarians, there is quite a bit of common ground that each could build on.  For me, I find it refreshing to build on the common beliefs.

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Filed under foreign policy, Libertarian, Personal, politics, role of government

Socialism in Seattle: Travel Reflections

I grew up in the great Pacific Northwest.  I recently visited my family there.

I immediately noticed construction of a government-run light rail system as we left the airport.  There wasn’t too much in the way of other construction I noticed.  Residential construction has slowed considerably.  While we pinch our pennies, the government takes money to fund something we wouldn’t contribute our own money towards.  Well, it’s not my money.  It’s the money of western Washingtonians.  My parents were a little hazy on the specifics of the funding stream.  Can’t say I blame them.  Who can keep track of all the government revenue streams out there?  Not me.

Roads are well kept, but traffic is terrible.  Shortages abound in the road socialism found in Seattle.  I don’t remember traffic ever being so bad.  The market is much more averse to shortages, but free roads are considered a necessity by most.  And so demand continues to increase, and taxes go up to keep the roads maintained.  I admit they are looking pretty good: recently paved, green medians, flowers, etc.  But it would be nice if the funding stream was more voluntary and less compulsory.  Silly me.

Got into a discussion with my brother-in-law about government regulation.  He’s a left liberal, basically a socialist.  I admire him for his intellectual honesty.  Too many are socialists and refuse to admit it.  His optimism about the potential good of government solutions is roughly comparable to my pessimism about the inevitable negative consequences.  There must needs be opposition in all things, right?

I tried to explain to the best of my ability why government (top-down) regulation is unnecessary, but I find I always come up short.  Only in hindsight do I find a decent way to express the resolution of common problems.  For instance, he mentioned that letting the wealthy keep their money (i.e. not taxing the rich so heavily) keeps the wealth concentrated in the hands of the wealthy.  I did a meager, if not inept job of explaining how the wealthy among us provide for jobs. 

For instance, a wealthy individual may purchase a Lexus.  Who sells the Lexus?  Who assembles the Lexus?  Who designs and engineers the Lexus?  Who drives the Lexus from the factory to the car dealer?  When a rich person buys a Lexus, or any other item we may feel is excessive, unnecessary, or exclusive, (and we should be perfectly free to feel that way whether that is an accurate reflection of reality or not) we too often miss the many individuals that get a chunk of that purchase price.  Same thing goes for any luxury item: who designs a private jet?  Who assembles them?  Who flies them?  Suppose they eat at an expensive restaurant, one I would never eat at.  Who works there as a waiter or a chef? 

Suppose a wealthy individual wants to invest in a start-up company.  There’s all sorts of individuals whose paycheck and livelihood depend upon this seed money. 

Suppose a rich man put it in a bank account.  It collects interest and guess who works at the bank?  Guess who can get a loan as a result of the deposited money? 

I think you get the point that the more money spent or invested by the wealthy, the more it gets dispersed among the rest of us.  There is almost no exception to this.

On the other hand, suppose we want to tax the wealthy.  Obviously, there are bureaucratic, administrative, and enforcement costs.  And there’s the question of who to give to money to, and how to give them the money?  There will be some things our wealthy example will be unable to invest in: a small business, some luxury consumer items, an exotic trip, etc.  Less money spend there means less money going to ordinary joes like you and me. 

Even if the right people get the right amount of money in the right way, a graduated income tax discourages wealth creation.  There is a disincentive to be wealthy.  Not only is money being taken in the form of taxation which would have constructive alternate uses, but the tax system discourages making more money.  This discouragement to wealth generation leads to less spending and investing in the economy over time, even with a static tax rate: one less luxury item or fewer trips to the restaurant mean less money in the hands of ordinary joes like you and me.  This is economically destructive.  The constructive alternate uses of this money are destroyed.

A related myth of the well-meaning liberal is that the divide between rich and poor is a market defect and can only be bridged by government interference.  This is very much tied to the Marxist idea of the proletariat.  I believe the opposite.  I have met several individuals who, while not elite in background, are property owners.  There was a market opportunity they capitalized on.  Maximizing these opportunities (i.e. making them more available) maximizes the ability for those from a disadvantaged socio-economic background to leap to middle or even upper classes. 

Government barriers which make it difficult to start and maintain a business do the opposite: the Marxist model of a rigid proletariat and their greedy capitalist masters becomes ever more real as the barriers make it ever more difficult to move from lower to middle class.  The divide widens as a result of government intereference, not in spite of it.  The liberal understands there is a divide between the rich and the poor, but misunderstands the nature of it and the proper solution.  He is too optimistic about the nature of the state and its ability to promote goodness and resolve problems.

The conversation with my brother-in-law was very civil and cordial.  It was a good paradigm for me.  I think we have a mutual respect for one another.  His beliefs, like most others, are quite nuanced and relatively complex, according to my rudimentary understanding.  Too often, small government-advocates like myself tend to dumb down these complex beliefs into one or two heated epithets, which both inaccurately characterizes their beliefs but also takes away any hope of having a civil discussion between two disparate individuals.  Demonizing and contention is not the way of God.  Nor should it be the way of the Latter-day Saint.  Respect, understanding, and compassion, (and even empathy) coupled with gentle persuasion, can go much farther in building bridges between individuals.

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Filed under Austrian Economics, fiscal policy, Libertarian, Personal, politics, role of government, Social Commentary

Is Pre-Emptive War Justified?

Is pre-emptive war justified?  There are certainly moral and ethical justifications for such actions, but they come from such sources as Hitler and Machiavelli.  Hardly the bastions of traditional western morality, in my opinion.

I believe in the Just War Theory.  Wars are just if and only if they satisfy several criteria.  First, there must be a right to go to war:

  1. All possible recourses have been completely exhausted (i.e. diplomacy).
  2. A war is based on just criteria (i.e. self-defense, or defense of one’s property) and just intention.
  3. Only legitimate authorities are authorized to wage war.
  4. Arms may not be used in a futile cause or when a disproportionate amount of force is required to achieve success.

Second, there is the issue of how the war is waged:

  1. Acts of war should be directed towards combatants, not towards non-combatants.
  2. Force used must be proportional to the wrong endured.
  3. Force used must be kept to the minimum required to achieve the desired ends.

This is roughly my view of the Just War Theory.  There are many examples in Western history that do not meet this criteria.  Clearly, Germany was not justified in attacking France in WWI or WWII.  But neither were allied bombing runs on German residents justified.  Nor bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Many point out these bombings likely saved hundreds of thousands of Japanese and American lives.  But how many combatant lives are we willing to trade for an intentional death of a civilian?  Sherman’s March in the Civil War is also not justified.  Nor are Napoleonic or Roman conquests of western civilization.

While the powers that be have decided pre-emptive war is necessary and occasionally stoop to try to convince us to believe them, it is an explicit rejection of Just War Theory.  For instance, our efforts in Iraq fail to meet nearly all of the above criteria.  Nor do we meet all of the criteria in our conflict in Afghanistan.  It’s almost certain a pre-emptive attack on Iran, should one be carried out, would also fail to meet the criteria.  In order to justify pre-emptive war, we need an entirely new set of moral and ethical criteria for going to war.  Just War Theory is largely based on defense of one’s life and one’s property.  The justification for pre-emptive war has extremely disturbing implications.

The movie “Minority Report,” while I cannot in good conscience recommend anyone view, admittedly explores these themes.  If you know that an individual is to commit a crime of aggression against you, are you justified in entering his house before he attacks you, and incapicitate or even kill him before he makes an attempt on your life?  Traditional morality, western or eastern, rejects this as a moral possibility.  We are only justified in attacking an aggressor when he is at the verge of his act of aggression.  Imminent danger must be present. 

And of course, in pre-emptive aggression, there is also the question: how do we know his intention to commit an act of aggression will lead to the actual act?  How many acts do we consider which we never accomplish to completion?  A related question is, “How do we know our source (as to the information that an individual will commit some act of aggression against us) is accurate and truthful?”  There are all manner of moral and ethical problems with attacking someone well before they attack us.  The colloquial expression is that we attack them over there so they do not attack us over here.  This turns our public ethics and morals on its head.  If we are justified in intervening in other countries which did not have an immediate attempt underway to attack us, who are we not justified in attacking?  In whose personal lives and for what causes domestic and foreign are we not willing to engage and enlist?

I have not even begun to discuss the logistical issues: is such a policy even feasible?  Do we have the willingness to expend the blood and treasure associated with such a policy?  Do we even have the blood and treasure?  How much are we willing to spend?  What is the limit?  The mainstream answers to these questions (or the ignoring of them altogether) is ominous.  Consider, for instance, John McCain’s near-apologetic insistence that there will be other wars.

In short, the morality needed to justify pre-emptive wars of aggression is a rejection of the Just War Theory, and opens a Pandora’s Box of unending moral questions and quandries which are best answered by a totalitarian ideology.  This is not American!  As Latter-day Saints, we should strongly oppose such a moral framework.

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Filed under Austrian Economics, foreign policy, Libertarian, Paleoconservatism, Personal, politics, role of government

Dying Community

What happened to the strong American community, as depicted, for instance, in Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town?”  Why is that a relic of the past rather than a reflection of the present?

Take the town I live in now.  My wife and I moved in about five months ago.  One neighbor gave us some banana bread as a moving in gift.  We appreciated and returned the favor a couple of days later.  We also went around with some holiday gifts to our nearby neighbors.  Very little enthusiasm or appreciation was showed.  We feel a little isolated.

Now I am not in need of pity.  But I would like to point out that this is not atypical.  Most communities I have lived in the last few years (about five different ones in four different states) are about the same.  Individuals and families seem isolated from their neighbors.  Why is this the case?

There are probably many factors.  Leviathan, our bloated government, I am sure, is at least partially responsible.  How?  There are several ways.

One reason is zoning.  I like to talk to the old timers about this area.  Back in the 1950s, kids could play anywhere in the neighborhoods.  There wasn’t really a bad part of town like there is today.  If there was, it was much much smaller.  There were corner restaurants and neighborhood grocers.  People could (and did) walk to work, to shop, to school, and for recreation.  Cars were primarily used for weekend excursions, of which there were plenty.  There was an optimistic, positive energy associated with the town.  Businesses were booming, families were growing.  People were connected.

Downtown shopping declined sharply once a farmer in the outskirts of town (in another neighboring town, actually) sold his farm to a developer to build a mall.  More farmers sold land to residential developers.  Large residential areas were built, and people started moving out of the downtown area.  Renters started moving in.

I have a hard time believing that zoning had no part in the development of large residential areas and a large commercial mall.  Cars, of course, were a necessity, to shop, to go out to eat, to go to work, as well as for recreation.  The pedestrian has become an endangered species.  This is in contrast to Wilder’s “Our Town,” where residents walk to the grocer and the drug store and soda shop daily and interact with a real person they actually know, instead of a face with a nametag.

Today, farmers are selling off their land.  There’s still some farmland close by, but that is getting more and more rare all the time.  Strip malls gradually fill in the spaces, and shoppers go to an impersonal Sam’s Club or Walmart to get groceries, Lowe’s for hardware, and Best Buy for electronics.  I wonder how many strip malls we’d have if there was no zoning.  Today I get amused when I hear about zoned “mixed-use developments,” where city planning commissions try to remake the traditional American town structure with residential, commercial, and recreational interests all within walking distance.  It’s the same sort of pattern we see with the government nearly everywhere.  For instance, they hunted wolves nearly to extinction in the early 20th Century, and then spend much of the rest of that Century up to today trying to get them back.  Which leads us to ask, “Why didn’t they just leave things alone in the first place?  Wouldn’t they have been better off?”

Another reason for the declining strength of the community is surely the tax burden.  How can a family live off of one income comfortably when 35 to 40% (or more) of their income is gobbled up in various taxes and tax-related expenses?  And so both parents feel the need to work to provide for their families.  In Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” the women were really the glue that kept the community connected, in neighborhoods and the church choir, for instance.  Take them away and a ghost town is left, at least during the day.

Of course, inflation is part of this, too.  Prices don’t go up all by themselves.  They need some help from the Federal Reserve.  And the good ol’ Fed is glad to comply.  Most of us think inflation is a necessary evil, and so we go along.  It wasn’t always so.

A third reason is the overall mindset.  A community used to actually take care of its citizens.  It was the safety net for anyone involved, like a mutual society.  Along the same lines, I like hearing Ron Paul talk about church-owned hospitals.  But now we have another safety net, Uncle Sam, Leviathan, or just the gov’mint.  They are here to take care of us!  Haven’t you heard?  Tax dollars can pay for school breakfasts and lunches, for health care, for gas and food and rent.  It’s a miracle!  And so the gov’mint, for many, has replaced the need for voluntary societies.  What is the incentive to have a voluntary society when a compulsory society accomplishes the same purposes?

And so what is the mindset?  Instead of, “I’ll go ask my neighbor for a cup of sugar,” it’s “I’ll just use my WIC coupons.”  Instead of, “I’ll ask my neighbor for a ride to the doctor’s office,” it’s “I’ll use a taxi and charge the taxpayer.  It’s free, right?”  Why do we need a village as our community when the government fills that function?

A fourth, related to the third (maybe 3b) is a pessimism about life in general, which is a partial reflection of foreign and domestic policies which make our country more dangerous and expensive, both within and without.  Hearing the news barrage us with information about the latest violent crimes surely doesn’t help.  It certainly doesn’t help me.  Nor am I amused to find about the latest foreign adventures our government is embarking upon, nor the billions of foreign aid that frequently goes (sometimes to both sides) in a regional conflict not of our concern.

In short, by a forceful effort to “globalize,” our communities are marginalized!

As a Mormon, it is important to maintain strong community ties, especially within a ward organization.  Such is Zion!  And yet in the world, despite all of our “progress,” it feels like there are more barriers between individuals and families than there have ever been.

I recognize that if enough individuals were willing to maintain strong community ties (and there are those) that strong communities would remain, despite high taxes, bad policies, and a distorted mindset.  The government cannot meet every need, especially the most important ones: those involving human interaction.  But for those swimming upstream just to provide a good life for their families, it sometimes seems as if the deck is stacked against them.

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Filed under Austrian Economics, fiscal policy, foreign policy, Libertarian, Paleoconservatism, Personal, politics, role of government, Ron Paul, Social Commentary

Brooke White sings “Let It Be,” Plus Reflections on Socialist Transport

Tuesday evening, as I was watching Mormon Brooke White sing The Beatles’ 1970 hit “Let It Be,” I couldn’t help but notice her sincerity, her passion, her gratitude, and her exuberance for the entire opportunity she had been given. I couldn’t help but admire her channeled musical energy and powerful emotion as she sung a song that was deeply meaningful to her.

Thankfully, Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and even Simon Cowell all seemed to think she did a great job. Part of me fills with pride (presumably the righteous kind) when I see a Mormon doing so great in the great wide world of Babylon, without compromising principles.

There are many things in this life where I should just “let it be.” I’d like to talk about one I would not like to “let it be.” Like so many liberals, this is an area where I heartily agree on the problem, but strongly disagree on the solution. Many conservatives seem to sidestep these problems as non-issues. I have a problem with this mindset.

The other day, on the radio, I heard a well-meaning liberal Brit talk about how 1.2 million individuals are killed each year from automobile accidents. Certainly, a terrible, terrible tragedy. We’ve lost over 4,000 soldiers in Iraq. We lost over 3,000 on 9-11. We lost over 600,000 in the Civil War, America’s bloodiest conflict. And twice that many die each year as a result of vehicular deaths. Most of these are in developing countries, and many are pedestrian-vehicle collisions.

The Brit’s solution, not surprisingly, is to “tame the car.” Make it safe. How? Predictably, government laws and regulations are the answer. The car, its design, performance, and manufacture become the responsibility of an appointed bureaucratic organization (or several). This was the Brit’s response to the problem. Then they brought up another guest who represented some automobile association in America. He noted that accident rates in early 20th Century America were bad, and that they had tapered off and were much better now. The difference was something like an order of magnitude, and so he defended the status quo.  Of course, who wants to wait around 80 or 100 years for things to gradually get better? Not me.

What other solutions are there? First off, we should ask who owns the roads. Largely, transportation networks (especially roads) are government-run. What would happen if roads became privatized?

We can recall recent news stories about potholes in Chicago. Anyone that has driven in any sort of large city notes an unghastly amount of traffic at rush hour and around certain times of the week and year. Privatizing roads would not eliminate these problems, at least not immediately. But there would certainly be strong incentives to change.  These incentives would not exist in a publicly owned system.  Why not?

The idea that a private road owner would lose revenue (either from businesses or pedestrians or drivers) with less traffic would compel him to try and create a sustainable market.  Roads would be designed and maintained with the customer in mind, for the profit motive leads to a better road for individuals to travel on, and businesses to do business on.  Potholes and shortages in the form of traffic jams would be risky, for there would be a competitive reason to eliminate or reduce them.  And of course the safety issue is huge.  Imagine how much reputation could be built around a safe road?  If there’s a market for Volvo and Hyundai based largely on safety, surely there would be one for a safe road.  A publicly-owned road system has none of these incentives, and so positive changes are much less likely to occur.  When changes do occur, the time scale of change is significantly different than it would otherwise be.  A publicly-owned road system is, quite simply, a monopoly.  Our road system has the same problems with shortages and quality that accompany any monopoly.  Privately-owned cars, fuel, and property helps to mask the problem, but it does exist, and no manner of reforms, regulations, or legislation will resolve the problems nearly as effectively as privatizing: there is no way to match the powerful, effective change that comes from free market incentives, nor the liberty that accompanies them.

To the current road system, we can say, “let it be,” maintaining the current problems of shortages, traffic jams, lost time, pollution, slow construction, copious potholes, and safety, we can increase the tax and liberty burden and try to fix the problem with more regulations, rules, and legislation, or we can look to economic history and stop trusting the government to do for us what we can do for ourselves with greater efficiency, effectiveness, and liberty.

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The Compromise of Spirituality in Entertainment

Many Mormons justify violence and immorality in books and film by appealing to scriptures.  They say something like, “Have you ever read the last chapter of Ether, or the tale about Ehud in the Book of Judges, or David and Goliath, or Captain Moroni’s battle with Zerahemnah?  If there is so much violence in scripture, then violence in media must not be a problem, as long as the consequences are visible.” 

A similar argument goes for immorality: “Have you ever read about Judah’s transgressions in the Book of Genesis, or David’s transgression with Bathsheba, or Hosea marrying a prostitute?  If there is so much immorality in scripture, then immorality in media is OK, as long as the consequences are visible.”  (I am using immorality to mean portrayals of sexuality.  For when sexuality is crassly explored in a public venue, beyond the privacy it was divinely intended for, it becomes immoral.)

A great example of this argument was written by a relatively popular Mormon author named Brandon Sanderson.  In an interview on the Times and Seasons blog, he said,

“A wise friend (an LDS writer) once explained that in his opinion, glorifying violence or sexuality comes when consequences are removed. The scriptures themselves don’t shy away from graphic content or descriptions (scalps on swords, anyone?) The important issue, however, is that the scriptures show the destructive effect that these things can have, even on the good people who are forced to engage in them.”

This is a clear illustration of this idea.  As long as the consequences are made known, then viewing or reading it should be OK.  Granted, General Authorities, including, in my remembrances, Elder Ballard, may have made recent statements which can be interpreted to be consistent with this ideology.  But perhaps there is a misunderstanding of intent and context.

We should consider is the admonition in the 13th Article of Faith, “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”  Notice the Article of Faith does not mention that if there is anything graphic or violent or immoral we seek after these things, as long as it is in the proper context.  No, the Prophet Joseph teaches that we seek after virtue and beauty.  Now of course, some may say that a book can be violent or immoral to some degree and still be praiseworthy.  In whose eyes is it praiseworthy?  This is somewhat of a slippery slope.

Why do I say this is a slippery slope?  We all know that desensitization is real.  We all know someone who doesn’t find the most violent violence shocking, or the most graphic pornography morally troublesome.  And the pathway to this line of thinking is desensitization: too many R-rated movies in grade school, or even kindergarten, can have bad results, especially when a strong moral backbone is not included in one’s life.  Even with a strong moral backbone, individual choices can offend the Spirit.  A great scriptural example of this is Laman and Lemuel, who had seen an angel, but were so wicked they were “past feeling,” that they could not “feel” his words.  Likewise, when we choose to view something offensive, the Spirit is offended, and cannot dwell in unholy temples.  If we are choosing to be in an unholy temple, then how can the Spirit be with us?  If we ignore this loss of spiritual sensitivity, then we do so at the risk of our own spirituality.  Where do we draw the line?  When have we decided we’ve had our fill of sin or trashy entertainment?

My contention is that what we view pertains to our morality and our spirituality.  Yes, Jesus taught that whatsoever cometh out of a man defileth a man, and not what we consume (Matt. 15:10-20).  But consider that when we consume (i.e. visually) something violent or immoral, often spirituality is compromised.  What we participate in can directly affect our thoughts, our beliefs, and our attitudes.  Just as when we read scripture or go to General Conference, our thoughts are uplifted and attitudes can change, so to when we read a book or see a movie or even listen to a particular song, our attitudes and beliefs can be modified; even the slightest modification can be spiritually detrimental.  In that way, what we consume can lead to what comes out of our minds, our mouths, and our actions.

And of course whenever we choose to view something, some thought is proceeding out of our mind.  If our motivation to view something unclean in not right in the sight of God, then we have, according to the scripture, defiled ourselves, even before we have seen whatever it is we desire.  The mere thought, proceeding from our hearts, can defile us, if it is not right in God’s eyes.

That is not to say this is a sole factor in one’s spirituality.  But it is a factor, and a significant one considering the focus on media in today’s world.

Creating or recreating violent or immoral content can compromise one’s spirituality, even if consequences are presented.  This is not to say that it always does so.  But there is always this risk, and to ignore this risk is again, spiritually dangerous.

Why is there so much violence and immorality in scripture, then?  Why is that justified?  There are several reasons.  One is that scripture represents words spoken under inspiration of God.  If God commands someone to write something, then that is obviously justified and right.  But to suppose that fiction writing (however well-intentioned) is equivalent to scripture is a bit of a stretch for me.

Another is the understanding that some scripture is more spiritually significant than others.  2 Nephi 9 is more scriptural and spiritually significant for us than the numbering of the Levites in the Old Testament, for instance, or the descriptions of David’s warriors.  Rarely do we find the violent and immoral episodes embedded in the core doctrinal scriptures.  There are exceptions, of course.

Consider the toned-down violence in any recent Church film.  Surely that is a guide for how graphic violence should be toned down, even when it is absolutely necessary to tell an important, scriptural story.  If it is to be toned down for a scriptural story, then what about an optional, fictional story?  Is there a double standard?

Another is the teaching from Mormon (Moroni 7:12-13) that

  12 Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.
  13 But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.

Scripture clearly qualifies as inspired of God.  We wonder what about the muddled middle, that which mostly persuades to do good some of the time, or just sort of persuades to do good?  We remember that there are many doctrines: some are of God, some are of men, and some are of devils (D&C 46:7).  Verse thirteen describes the divine doctrine, and verse twelve the devilish.  We can imagine there are man-made doctrines as well.  It is likely there is some neutral middle ground where individuals are free to act, for it is not meet that we be compelled in all things; else we are slothful (D&C 58:26-27).  We are also admonished to judge righteous judgment (JST Matt. 7:1).

Ultimately, we have to rely on our own judgment, based upon our own understanding and experience.  If our hearts are true, then we will be guided in the way pleasing to Him.  Some decisions may not matter (D&C 62:5).  In time, as we spiritually mature, we put away childish things (1 Cor. 13:11).  But sometimes we still may enjoy a game of t-ball, metaphorically speaking.

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David Archuleta, Another Day in Paradise, and The Great Depression

For those who watched and those who didn’t, Mormon David Archuleta sang “Another Day in Paradise” on American Idol Tuesday night. The judges (namely Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul) generally thought he did well. Simon Cowell thought it was a little depressing. I guess contestants should try to avoid singing about weighty, significant issues, especially ones they are concerned about, and instead stick to the fluffy, substanceless, trivial hedonism of modern day pop music. Who cares about the lyrics and the message anyway, right? We’re only supposed to care about that on that “Idol Gives Back” show. Don’t even talk about charity before then.

Anyway, I was reflecting on the story and message of Phil Collins’ song “Another Day in Paradise.” It’s really about the struggle of the homeless. This should give us pause. Too frequently, this is something skipped over, as if it doesn’t matter, or worse, it doesn’t even exist. Some think that homeless people have obviously just given up in life. If they would only try harder and pull themselves up from their bootstraps, they wouldn’t be homeless. Nothing could be farther from this gross misconception. Homelessness is a terrible symptom of a much more expansive problem.

Perhaps this surprises you on a libertarian website to hear such concern over homelessness. It really is a big problem, just like inner city crime, drugs, and poverty. But the most commonly discussed solutions are not always the best. The best, in fact the only long-term solution to homelessness is right before us.

It’s odd to think that in our day and age, there should be any homeless among us. Habitations are ancient and go back thousands of years. Wigwams, mud huts, and concrete houses as discussed in The Book of Mormon are ancient. What is wrong with us that we have such a problem finding shelter today? Yes, there have been and probably will always be vagrants, those who choose to avoid a house and live on the road. But most people prefer a structure to call home to not having one.

Another oddity is that there are abandoned buildings about. Landlords go out of business from time to time. Why is it that we have a surplus of property and yet a shortage of houses?

The term “shortage” is the key here. Whenever there is a shortage, the pricing mechanism associated with free enterprise was messed up. It sent the wrong signal. As a good becomes more and more scarce (as demand outstrips supply) then prices increase to compensate. If prices are not allowed to compensate (not allowed to go up) then a shortage results. The price sends a false indication that the supply is more abundant (or that the demand is less) than it actually is. A shortage results. We saw this in the 1970s, when the federal government mandated a price ceiling for gasoline. This resulted in mass shortages, long lines, etc.

There’s another problem with price ceilings. In the case of rent, landlords can no longer make a profit when prices are higher than the revenue received from rent payments. So they go out of business, leaving buildings vacant and tenants homeless. This is part of the problem.

But there’s clearly more to it than this. Another aspect is the price floor. We are about to experience problems with price floors in the upcoming recession. Probably the most famous problem with respect to price floors was The Great Depression.

During a recession or even a depression, consumer demands shrinks. Capital available to invest shrinks. The labor force shrinks (people get laid off). As demand for consumer goods and investments decrease, store owners, investment brokers, and manufacturers lower prices to unload their inventory, to encourage investment and consumption.  Better to suffer in the short term than go out of business in the long term.  Eventually, prices will get low enough that people will start buying and investing again. More money invested and more goods being produced translates to more employment. Wages will be lower than they were before, but so are prices (wages can be considered the price of employment). People employed obviously have more money to spend than they did unemployed. As they have more money to spend, demand grows, sometimes outstripping supply. And so prices go back up, including wages. Then things can get back to how they were.

(I’m ignoring for the moment the cause of the business cycle and the existence of recessions and depressions. That, according to Austrian Theory, is central banking policies, which are very widespread today. But that’s another topic. Here, I would just like to talk about the after-effects.)

What I described above is how a free market responds to a recession. We don’t have a free market. We have prices floors and price ceilings, for instance, and all sorts of taxes and fees that distort the pricing signal. Prices no longer are an accurate reflection of supply and demand. So during a recession, when people are laid off and companies stop the production lines, price floors are in place (i.e. minimum wage). Prices cannot adjust for supply and demand to match up. They cannot go low enough. So there are goods that can’t get sold. If this goes on long enough, companies start going out of business. People start getting really nervous and fidgety with their savings. Some will go to the bank and withdraw everything. This is a complicated issue, but simply put, if enough people do this, our fractional reserve banking policies have problems: banks run out of money. And so they close. Nowadays, the banks are FDIC insured. Someday I will talk about the implications here. But for now, we can see huge rippling effects that reach into all sectors of the economy. Instead of a little blip on the radar screen followed by a rapid adjustment, a months-long recession leads to years-long depression. (In the case of The Great Depression, not only were price floors in place, but there was tariff legislation (i.e. Smoot-Hawley), increasing the costs of consumer goods, and huge (unprecendented) amounts of government spending (i.e. Hoover Dam, New Deal, etc.) which further crippled the economy. No wonder it took so many years for the economy to recover. Removing these barriers to economic growth would go a long way to mitigating the short and long-term problems associated with recessions, including the upcoming episode.)

Shortages including homelessness is one of the inevitable effects: as people lose their jobs and income, and have serious trouble finding another stream of income, there’s no way all the bills can be paid. Eventually, that includes the rent or mortgage payment. A swiftly-adjusting economy could prevent long-term recessionary effects, including shortages in labor and housing.

And so the (nowadays) counterintuitive step of removing price floors and price ceilings would have the benefit of allowing the economy to take the lumps a little better, making recessionary recovery much more tolerable for all of us, and significantly reducing problems such as homelessness and unemployment.

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Filed under Austrian Economics, fiscal policy, Libertarian, politics, recession, role of government