Fred Thompson on the economy, part one

Check out this video that Fred Thompson released in December.  It’s an amusing, yet spot on, take on the economic situation.  I highly recommend watching this.

And be sure to tune in tomorrow for a follow-up, which may surprise you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKc4XFK0iVY

Love Wins

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The Forgotten Heart of King’s Dream–Greg Boyd

Today I just want to share this thought-provoking piece from Greg Boyd.

The Forgotten Heart of King’s Dream

Posted: 19 Jan 2009 01:40 PM CST

Every year Shelley and I attend the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast with some friends. As you might have expected, there was an excitement in the room this year that was unlike anything we’ve witnessed in the past. Tomorrow we will witness what is undoubtedly the most remarkable achievement of King’s dream as America inaugurates its first non-white president. Colin Powell was the keynote speaker of the event and he delivered a moving (and surprisingly humorous) tribute to King while celebrating Obama’s election as a manifestation of King’s dream coming to fruition. When he finished he received a well deserved standing ovation.

I respect Collin Powell a great deal and appreciated most of what he had to say. But as one who has studied King’s speeches and writings a good bit, I couldn’t help but notice a glaring irony that characterized his entire speech. The very fact that this tribute to King, at this turning point in history, was delivered by a four-star military general was ironic. The fact that Powell illustrated King’s call to “service” by praising America’s soldiers was even more ironic. And the fact that Powell claimed America was a great nation on the basis of the greatness of our soldiers throughout our history was, in my opinion, stunningly ironic. For you see, at the heart of everything King stood for was an unqualified conviction that violence can never achieve a good end that endures.

Taking his cue from Jesus and Ghandi, King insisted, over and over again, that lasting justice and peace can only come about when we resolve to love our enemies rather than retaliate against them. In fact, in some of the speeches King gave before demonstrations, he told this audience he didn’t want anyone participating who harbored hatred in their heart toward their oppressors and who were not willing to commit to non-violence, regardless of what may be done to them. In his speeches and writings (e.g. Stride Toward Freedom) he proclaimed that true freedom can only come when the oppressed care as much about freeing their oppressor as they care about freeing themselves from oppression. The only way forward, King rightly saw, was through self-sacrificial love, even toward – especially toward – our enemies.

The heart of King’s dream wasn’t about racial equality. It was about racial equality only because it was first and foremost about a society in which love prevails and that recognizes the insanity of hatred, oppression and violence. And while America has certainly made important strides toward racial equality – as evidenced by Obama’s presidency – it seems to me that we have not progressed one iota toward the ideal of non-violence. If anything, it seems we’ve gone backwards in recent years on this ideal.

What is most concerning, however, is that it seems that even many of King’s most ardent supporters have forgotten the heart of his dream — which perhaps explains how they could invite a four-star military general to deliver King’s tribute and fail to notice the irony of his praising America’s fighters to illustrate King’s teachings about service.

All politics aside, I think everyone should be elated for what Obama’s election means for non-whites and for race relations in America. And we definitely have King to thank for this. But as significant as this is, I don’t think we can claim we’re any closer to realizing the heart of King’s dream than we were when he marched the streets of Birmingham Alabama a half century ago. Indeed, most seem to have forgotten and discarded the heart of King’s dream as an impractical and superfluous aspect of his vision.

Be that as it may, I encourage followers of Jesus not to forget about the heart of King’s dream. For, before the call to loving non-violence was given by King, it was given and modeled by the King of all Kings. The heart of King’s dream is the heart of the King’s dream and thus must be the heart of our commitment to live in the way of the King.

Peace

Greg

 Love Wins

Farm workers

There are over one million hired farm workers in this country.  These farm workers were paid over $28 billion last year.

I was once a hired farm worker myself.  I started out making 35 cents per hour when I was 7 or 8 years old.  By the time I was 15, I was making $2.00/hour.  It was very hard work, but from a very early age I was able to make enough money in the summer to pay for my own school clothes and books.  And it certainly instilled a work ethic.

But today, with unemployment skyrocketing in this country, 72% of the hired farm workers are from Mexico.

No doubt these Mexicans are glad to have these jobs, and their families benefit from them.  Of course many of these men would prefer to be with their families on their family farms in Mexico, but American agricultural policies ruined their local economies and farms, and drove them across the border as hired hands.  But that subject is for another day.

In my community, all the large farmers hire Mexican labor.  The Mexicans are great workers and they don’t complain.  But the truth is that these farmers couldn’t meet their needs with local labor, even if they wanted to.  Millions of Americans would simply rather be unemployed than do farm labor.  And that’s a shame.

For some, they just don’t want to have to work that hard.  But for millions, working for hire on a farm has demeaning connotations.  I remember cringing many years ago when I first heard the Run-DMC lyric, “I ain’t baling no hay.”  What the heck is wrong with baling hay?, I thought.

I’m tempted to paste yet another Wendell Berry quote here.  Certainly he has written forcefully and beautifully on the subject of farm labor.  But instead I’ll close with Carolyn Chute’s dedication to her novel Merry Men.

“Let me honor here all the farmers who still work the land themselves, who are not agribusinessmen or agribusinesswomen, but farmers, who know family and community interdependence…America’s last vestiges of freedom.   And honor to all those millions who were born to be farmers, as they have been for thousands of years, but because of modern “education”, Big Business and Mechanization, they cannot be and will never know their true gift, but are instead herded into welfare lines, prisons, or the slavery of Big Business…may they find it–the gift–in another life, another world.”

Love Wins

Christians and war

In the era before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire, the church took very seriously Jesus’ message of peace.  No soldier was allowed to become a member of the church unless he took an oath that he would refuse to obey an order to kill.  If a member of the church joined the army, according to the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, “they must be rejected for they have despised God.”

Along with Imperial Christianity, of course, came a radical change in attitude.  A thousand years after Christ, soldiers wearing the cross massacred the population of Jerusalem during the First Crusade.  Innumerable wars have been waged by Christians over the centuries, often in the name of Christ, and often against other Christians.   In 1862 American soldiers marched to war against other Americans, for example, singing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” seeking God’s favor as they trampled out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. 

These days, as our church parking lots are filled with cars bearing pro-war bumper stickers, let’s try to remain mindful that the book we carry into the building with us includes the following:

 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.  Matthew 5:9 

 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  2 Corinthians 10: 3-4 

The Psalmist asks God to Scatter the nations that delight in war.  Psalms 68:30 

And every year at Chrismas we read the prophecy from Isaiah 9: 6, regarding the coming of the messiah, but we seem to always leave out verse 5:

Every warrior’s boot used in battle
       and every garment rolled in blood
       will be destined for burning,
       will be fuel for the fire.

 For to us a child is born,
       to us a son is given,
       and the government will be on his shoulders.
       And he will be called
       Wonderful Counselor,  Mighty God,
       Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Hallelujah.

Love Wins.

Pigs

 

“I like pigs.  Dogs look up to us.  Cats look down on us.  Pigs treat us as equals.”  Winston Churchill.

We got our pigs back from our local processor last week.  They dressed out at 570 pounds.  I filled an entire chest freezer and spilled over into another one.  I don’t know how we’re going to eat all that, but I look forward to trying.

Folks around here are consistently surprised when I tell them that we raise our pigs on pasture.  They can’t believe the pigs don’t escape under the fence.  They can’t believe they fatten on pasture.  They generally seem to find the notion eccentric.

But historically pigs were raised in the wild.  They’d fatten on acorns and other nuts in the fall, and be trapped and butchered in the winter.  The practice of penning pigs up is modern.  Of course the factory CAFO system is ultramodern, and thoroughly disgusting.

We buy feeder pigs, just after they’ve been weaned.  We keep them in a barn stall for a few weeks until they’ve become accustomed to us, and have begun to be tamed.  Then we put them out on six acres of pasture.  By the time they’re ready for the freezer they are completely tame.  Although we feed them to supplement it, much of what they eat is from the pasture.  It’s a humane and sustainable way to raise pigs. And the pork is absolutely delicious.

Just this weekend I discovered that one of my neighbors is still curing hams in a smokehouse, the old fashioned way.  He scalds the pigs, rather than skinning them, and he grinds his own sausage.  He offered to do our pigs the next time we’re ready.  Aside from getting the benefit of the more traditional methods of butchering them, by helping him I’ll be able to learn to do it myself in the future (having paid insufficient attention to the details of this when I was a kid).  Maybe someday I’ll even be able to teach someone else to do it.  And in doing so hopefully I can help keep alive some of the basic skills of self-reliant living that go back thousands of years, but are seemingly being lost in less than two generations.

Love Wins

Let us tilt against the windmills

From Wendell Berry’s essay Discipline and Hope:

The outcry in the face of such obvious truths is that if they were implemented they would ruin the economy.  The peculiarity of our condition would appear to be that implementation of any truth would ruin the economy. If the Golden Rule were generally observed among us, the economy would not last a week.  We have made our false economy a false god, and it has made blasphemy of the truth.  So I have met the economy in the road, and am expected to yield it right of way.  But I will not get over.  My reason is that I am a man, and have a better right to the ground than the economy.  The economy is no god for me, for I have had too close a look at its wheels.  I have seen it at work in the strip mines and coal camps of Kentucky, and I know that it has no moral limits.  It has emptied the country of the independent and the proud, and has crowded the cities with the dependent and the abject.  It has always sacrificed the small to the large, the personal to the impersonal, the good to the cheap.  It has ridden questionable triumphs over the bodies of small farmers and tradesmen and craftsmen.  I see it, still, driving my neighbors off their farms into the factories.  I see it teaching my students to give themselves a price before they can give themselves a value.  Its principle is to waste and destroy the living substance of the world and the birthright of posterity for a monetary profit that is the most flimsy and useless of human artifacts.

Though I can see no way to defend the economy, I recognize the need to be concerned about the suffering that would be produced by its failure.  But I ask if it is necessary for it to fail in order for it to change; I am assuming that if it does not change it must sooner or later fail, and that a great deal that is more valuable will fail with it.  As a deity the economy is a sort of egotistical French monarch, for it can apparently see no alternative to itself except chaos, and perhaps that is its chief weakness.  For, of course, chaos is not the only alternative to it.  A better alternative is a better economy.    But we will not conceive the possibility of a better economy, and therefore will not begin to change, until we quit deifying the present one.

A better economy, to my way of thinking, would be one that would place its emphasis not upon the quantity of notions and luxuries, but upon the quality of necessities.  Such an economy would for example, produce an automobile that would last at least as long, and be at least as easy to maintain, as a horse.  It would encourage workmanship to be as durable as its materials; thus a piece of furniture would have the durability not of glue, but of wood.  It would substitute for the pleasure of frivolity a pleasure in the high quality of essential work, in the use of good tools, in a healthful and productive countryside.  It will encourage a migration from the cities back to the farms, to assure a work force that would be sufficient, not only to production of the necessary quantities of food, but to production of food of the best quality and to the maintenance of the land at the highest fertility–work that would require a great deal more personal attention and care and hand labor than the present technological agriculture that is focused so exclusively on production.  Such a change in the economy would not involve large-scale unemployment, but rather large-scale changes and shifts of employment.

“You are tilting at windmills,” I will be told.  “It is a hard world, hostile to the values that you stand for.  You will never enlist enough people to bring about such a change.”  People who talk that way are eager to despair, knowing how easy despair is.  The change I am talking about appeals to me precisely because it need not wait upon “other people.”  Anybody who wants to do so can begin it in himself and in his household as soon as he is ready–by becoming answerable to at least some of his own needs, by acquiring skills and tools, by learning what his real needs are, by refusing the glamorous and the frivolous.  When a person learns to act on his best hopes he enfranchises and validates them as no government or public policy ever will.  And by his action the possibility that other people will do the same is made a likelihood.

But I must concede that there is also a sense in which I am tilting at windmills.  While we have been preoccupied by various ideological menaces, we have been invaded and nearly overrun by windmills.  They are drawing the nourishment from our soil and the lifeblood out of our veins.  Let us tilt against the windmills.  Though we have not conquered them, if we do not keep going at them they will surely conquer us.

***********************

The going assumption seems to be that freedom can be granted only by an institution, that it is the gift of the government to its people.  I think it is the other way around.  Free men are not set free by their government; they have set their government free of themselves; they have made it unnecessary.  Freedom is not accomplished by a declaration.  A declaration of freedom is either a futile and empty gesture, or it is the statement of a finished fact.  Freedom is a personal matter; though we may be enslaved as a group, we can be free only as persons.  We can set each other free only as persons.  It is a matter of discipline.  A person can free himself of bondage that has been imposed on him only by accepting another bondage that he has chosen.  A man who would not be the slave of other men must be the master of himself–that is the real meaning of self government.  If we all behaved as honorably and honestly and industriously as we expect our representatives to behave, we would soon put the government out of work.

A person dependent on somebody else for everything from potatoes to opinions may declare that he is a free man, and his government may issue a certificate granting him his freedom, but he will not be free.  He is that variety of specialist known as a consumer, which means that he is the abject dependent of producers.  How can he be free if he can do nothing for himself?  What is the First Amendment to him whose mouth is stuck to the tit of the “affluent society?”  Men are free precisely to the extent that they are equal to their own needs.  The most able are the most free.

Love Wins

Our economic mess

 

For those of us who believe in limited government, free markets, and fiscal responsibility, these are troubling times.  Over the past twelve months we have witnessed events that would have been almost unimaginable a year ago.  Faced with a perceived “credit crisis”, and the inevitable effects of years of unrestrained, unsustainable borrowing and spending, the federal government, with no consitutional authority to do so, has orchestrated a series of bailouts and financial interventions that make the New Deal look like child’s play.  And now we are told that something more “bold” and “dramatic” is needed, and on the way.

One of the most troubling aspects of all this, for the few of us who are objecting to it,  is how few of us there are.  For the traditional left, increasing the power and scope of the federal government is perfectly acceptable.  For them, the answer to nearly any problem is to increase the size, power and scope of government.  Centrally planned economies and all manner of governmental social and economic engineering are part of what they have advocated for decades, so no protest is heard from them.  But what of the so-called right?  In this “crisis”, their true colors have been revealed.  Most of those who call themselves “conservative” not only do not oppose this wholesale rejection of American values, they beg for it.  These policies were instituted and implemented by a Republican  adminstration, and the principal beneficiaries have been on Wall Street. 

Those so-called conservatives who historically howled in opposition to social spending and welfare, are now just more pigs at the federal trough.  Lining up for their corporate welfare, they have forfeited any moral authority to ever again object to individual welfare.

So where will all this lead us? 

Our national debt will soar by trillions of dollars.  At this level it is impossible that it can ever be repaid, except by monetizing it.  The power and scope of the federal government will grow and continue to crowd out or liberties and our independence.  By summer I predict that at least two major banks will be, for all intents and purposes, nationalized (although semantics will try to disguise that fact).  To deal with rising unemployment, the federal government will create millions of make-work jobs.   Think of the DMV, on a massive new scale.  To pay for this, trillions of new dollars will be created out of thin air, and added to the national credit card.

By Fall, at the latest, our foreign lenders will no longer be willing to finance our extravagance for such meager returns.  The demand for Treasury debt will vanish, and the interest the public will be required to pay will begin to spike up.

As the worthlessness of the dollar becomes evident, the price of gold will rise.  I expect it will be $2,000/oz by the end of the year.

Corporate earnings in 2009 will be dismal.  The equity markets will slide, with the S&P 500 falling below 600, and the Dow below 6,000 (albeit with some wild, but short-lived, “sucker rallies” along the way).  The long-anticipated investor capitulation may occur, which could send the indices much lower than that.

The economic slowdown will continue, no matter how much the federal government tries to prevent it.  But while the velocity of money will continue to slow, the sheer volume of it will continue to grow.  The deflationary pressures of recession will be overcome by the inflationary pressures of an out of control money supply.  Nothwithstanding high unemployment, inflation will begin, then will accelerate.  More people will be out of work, yet prices will begin to climb.   Stagflation, on steroids.

With each event of economic deterioration the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, the Congress and the President, will take increasingly radical steps aimed at stopping it, while a frightened public (and a frightened Wall Street) demands action.  And every thing the government does will only make the problem worse.

Perhaps this will all end with a national return to sanity before the worst case scenario unfolds.  That worst case scenario includes a revaluation of the currency, a tyrannical central economic authority, and eventually the eruption of that thing that centralized militaristic governments do best.  It guarantees full employment, stifles criticism of the state and is the mother of all bailouts. 

There is another way, of course.  We could just accept the fact that recessions are normal parts of economic cycles, and are absolutely necessary following long periods of unsustainable “growth.”  We could repent from our borrow and spend ways, and return to traditional values of thrift, moderation and frugality.  We could allow interest rates to rise, promoting saving again.   Those savings could be deposited into banks, which could loan the money as capital to deserving businesses.  We could eliminate fractional reserve banking, and the securitization of bank debt.  Community bankers would only make loans that they were confident could be repaid. 

Most of all, the government could get out of the way and let the recession happen.  Bankrupt businesses should fail.  Malivestment should be liquidated.  Home prices should fall to the levels that they would have been at now but for the insane monetary policy of 2001-2003 and the greedfest that followed.  The government and the quasi-governmental masters of our currency could stop manipulating interest rates and money supply in a reckless effort to prop up inflated, unsustainable real estate and stock market asset values.  We should take our medicine, suffer the pain, then rebuild a sound economy, based on real savings and the creation of real wealth.  The longer we wait, and the more we try to postpone the inevitable reckoning, the worse it will eventually be.

But, sadly, that won’t happen.  Instead, the prudent will be required to pay the debts of the imprudent.  Businesses will be kept alive, no matter how much they deserve to fail, as long as they represent significant political constituencies.  As with seemingly any perceived problem in America these days, the citizens will look to Washington, and ask the government to fix it, and save them.  No matter the cost or consequences.

I am afraid that the USA in 2010 will look much different from the USA today.  And I don’t expect the change to be for the better.

Let’s all hope I’m wrong.

 

Love Wins