Monthly Archives: January 2009

NPR’s Adam Davidson on John Maynard Keynes

I admit I frequently listen to NPR while driving, and yes, I find it corporatist and statist.  But I enjoy listening to it nonetheless.

This morning, there was a worthwhile piece on John Maynard Keynes, and who he was, as his intellectual economic philosophy (often called Keynesian Economics) is very much reflected in both the current Bush administration as well as President Obama’s administration.

Who is Keynes?  He espouses the type of economic interventionism I find detestable.  His most famous book, “General Theory of Interest, Employment, and Money” essentially supported government intervention, especially when times get bad economically.  We can all see how this is the dominant philosophy today: if there’s some sort of problem, the government can fix it.  At bare minimum, a government infusion of cash is crucial to getting the economy going.  So goes the by-now unquestioned philosophy.

The piece (by Adam Davidson) started out explaining how Keynes was essentially an iconoclast, a shock-jock of sorts.  At some point, the book was brought up in addition to his contradictory economic beliefs (he was at times a free market guy).  What was not discussed was that the book toys with the idea that is now accepted as concrete truth.  Keynes doesn’t really try hard to persuade the reader this will work.  It’s more of a question: will this work?  Later in life, he actually opposed the philosophy the book espouses.

The host asked Adam Davidson whether it works.  Ah, here’s a great question with a simple answer: no.  As evidence, consider the huge government growth during the New Deal, which even Keynesians admit didn’t get us out of the Great Depression.  Nor did such government prevent the 1982 recession, nor the dot.com bust, nor the current housing collapse and economic debacle.

Adam Davidson pointed to World War II as evidence that this Keynesian idea does work, as many do believe, oddly enough, that WWII brought America out of the Great Depression.  Makes no sense to me, but many believe it.

Adam Davidson also pointed out that critics point to failures in the Kennedy and Nixon administrations (Nixon famously said, “We are all Keynesians now.”) as evidence why it does not work.

Then the host’s excellent question: “Why do we use it, then?”  In other words, in such a time of crisis, why are we turning to a controversial and unproven philosophy as if it is a bedrock principle?  Why are we trusting something we have no business trusting?

Adam Davidson’s stunning answer: because there’s no real alternative.  There’s really nothing else of this weight.

This was about the most ridiculous statement I’ve ever heard.  Socialists, anarchists, and libertarians alike should find this statement about as ludicrous as can be.  What about Austrian economists like Nobel Prize winning Frederick Hayek, or Ludwig von Mises, or Murray Rothbard?  What about Milton Friedman?  What about a host of other intellectual heavyweights who actually knew (with greater certainty than Keynes) what they were talking about?

This is a shallow and ridiculous justification for Keynesian economics.

In short, it is beyond frustrating to me that we are compelled to submit to leaders who blindingly follow a foolish, immoral, and unproven philosophy with so much at stake.  How many more government economic failures do we need before we realize that a) we can’t pay for this system of economic hyperinterventionism and b) it doesn’t work.  We need another system: the Constitutional system of freedom set up by our founders.

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Filed under Austrian Economics, recession, role of government

Nihilism, Moral Relativism, and The Dark Knight

I admit I made a mistake: I rented The Dark Knight.  I watched roughly 2/3rds of it, but just wasn’t motivated to finish it.  I’m not into the creepy, dark crime dramas a la Goodfellas or Heat or The Departed.  One reason is that they are amorally ultra-violent.  A proponent of the film would say this indicates a moral complexity, but I prefer to see it as a moral ambiguity, questioning the existence of good, right, and therefore evil and wrong, not to mention a transcendent moral good and purpose.

Rather than showing right and wrong and emphasizing the differences between them, shades of gray are shown and discussed and explored.  A dark shade of gray battles the darkest black.  Or maybe it’s just two different shades of dark gray battling it out until the end.

Lest you think that I think this sort of moral relativism is new, in my opinion, it is not; it goes back at least as far as Hamlet, possibly Plato’s Republic, and has been all over the international cinema map for a while, with silent films like MacTeague, for instance, in the 1920’s, or Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns in the 1960’s.  I’m obviously not including a comprehensive list; what I am saying is that this sort of moral relativism is not new as far as entertainment is concerned, and that the source of this has been around for a long time.

Nihilism, to me, seems to really sum up the moral backbone of many popular works: life is pointless.  Admittedly, there is almost always some sort of purpose in these movies, but it is some sort of watered-down morality with barely any recognizable trace of good.

For instance, in The Dark Knight, Batman wants to stop the chaotic, unpredictable supervillain The Joker from destroying Gotham.  Batman has some code of ethics: he will not kill people.  But he’s not really a good guy: he will pro-actively beat, bruise, intimidate, torture (he unapologetically breaks a man’s legs in the movie), trespass, and lie (the final conclusion ends with Batman setting up a huge lie).  Oh, and he talks in a ridiculously unrealistic raspy voice (I know that’s not really pertinent, but it was a little too much for me in this movie).

Why does Batman do these things?  He does them because he wants to and because he can.  Ultimately, he feels he’s justified in doing them, but is he really?

From the Old Testament Law of Moses: “If any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Exodus 21:23-24)”  Notice that even in these harsh conditions, neither pre-emptive aggression is justified, nor is a disproportionate response sanctioned: a hand is not to be demanded for an eye, nor a life for a foot.

We remember that the Savior teaches:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of these turn not thou away.

Ye have heard this it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that despitefully use you and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:38-45)

The Lord’s standard is different from the world’s: rather than be focused on retribution, aggression, or violence, we focus on giving and lifting and building others.  We are to love our enemies and do good to them which do evil to us, so that we can be Godlike.  We are not motivated by anger, frustration, aggression, selfishness, revenge, etc., but by love and concern for the welfare of others.

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Filed under Mormonism, Personal, Social Commentary