Archive for January, 2012

Obama’s Fatal Conceit: Top 10 SOTU Pride Trips

This year’s State of the Union address was particularly painful for anyone who understands that human knowledge has its limits.

Fantastical utopian scheming was aplenty, and thus, I was continuously reminded of Hayek’s marvelous bit from The Fatal Conceit: “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

And oh. my. goodness. Our dear, dear President has quite the imagination, no?

In my latest post at AEI’s Values of Capitalism, I pick my top 10 favorite pride trips from the speech, analyzing omniscient Obama’s “blueprinted” approach to prosperity with Hayekian skepticism.

Here’s #4:

[Obama:] “I also hear from many business leaders who want to hire in the United States but can’t find workers with the right skills. Growing industries in science and technology have twice as many openings as we have workers who can do the job. Think about that –- openings at a time when millions of Americans are looking for work. It’s inexcusable. And we know how to fix it.”

Of course we do! All we need to do is, like, double our workers in the most popular industries. (Don’t mind the “how,” because “we know how to fix it.”) Is Little Jimmy content to live in Mommy’s basement until he’s 38 years old? There’s an app for that.

But what if those industries aren’t going to have twice as many openings in, say, 5 years? What if a new industry is birthed right when Obama’s grand old plan finally gets passed (or right now)? Yeah, yeah, yeah … we’ll just pump up the jams on the next crop of growing industries and it’ll all work itself out. The federal government isn’t just smart; it’s quick.

And another goodie:

[Obama:] “Extend the tuition tax credit we started that saves millions of middle-class families thousands of dollars, and give more young people the chance to earn their way through college by doubling the number of work-study jobs in the next five years.”

How does the President know that twice as much work will exist in the next five years (or that it exists now)? Or are we talking about “shovel-ready” work-study jobs? Like “free” room service for the dorms? More research assistants for the Chair of Transgender Post-Colonial Literature? Or perhaps you’d prefer to help Librarian Betty pick her nose when her hands are full? Double up!

Read the rest here.

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Beyond the Noble Savage, Beyond Economic Man

Economic ManThe topics of self-interest and sacrifice are commonly discussed on this blog—my own view being that any form of either is bound to lead to selfishness unless both are aligned to God’s will (through good, old-fashioned obedience).

I’m currently reading Love & Economics: It Takes a Family to Raise a Village, in which author and economist Jennifer Roback Morse takes a unique approach to the subject, arguing that our views of “rational” man have been severely lacking on both sides (if your ideological buckets are that neat and tidy, that is).

Without incorporating love into our usual assumptions about the self and the other, argues Morse, we will structure a philosophy of life around a fantasy and be doomed to a mechanistic, regressive society.

First, the not unique part—i.e. a summary of the context:

The decentralized market economy is probably the most celebrated self-regulating social institution. Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” insight shows that people pursuing their own self-interest can actually end up furthering the public interest through no intention of their own. Since Smith’s time, free market economists have developed the Invisible Hand concept further through a construct called homo economicus, or economic man. Economic man is a rational person who calculates the costs and benefits of each potential action and chooses the action that brings him the most happiness.

The obvious problem is that we are not, and can never be, fully rational, no matter how much Ayn Rand wishes it were so (though we can certainly be more rational than we are).

On the other side is a similar problem, one which, though more obvious, is plagued by increasingly abundant misunderstanding: other people have an even smaller chance of being “fully rational” on our behalves.

The lofty bureaucrat on top of the hill may think he has a better idea than we do about the appropriate price of an orange (or a cup of coffee), but our personal preferences would likely differ if Grocer Bob had the chance to experiment. Of course, the implications lead to deeper struggles than the prices of oranges and coffee, which is why more fundamental, philosophical variations on Rousseau’s “natural goodness of man” have long served as platforms upon which many a tyrant has constructed his moralistic authoritarian palaces.

Yet even critiques of centralized approaches to knowledge and decisionmaking—Hayek’s, most notably—seem to only get us back to square one: that individual choice would be better (and it would!).

Yes, our knowledge is limited, and yes, our definitions of the “good” will not naturally conform. These are crucial realities to confront, but do they mean that Read the rest of this entry »

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RC on the RJ Moeller Show: Job Loss, Job Gain & Value Creation

I recently spent some time chatting with my good friend RJ Moeller on his increasingly popular podcast, The RJ Moeller Show (now hosted by AEI’s Values & Capitalism and broadcasted in the Chicago area).

RJ first interviews Claire Berlinski, editor at City Journal and Ricochet.com and author of the book There Is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters.

After that, I talk with RJ about my recent (and past) experiences with job loss and job gain, as well as some of the lessons my generation can draw from it.

My main point: our jobs are an opportunity for us to produce value more than they are an excuse to get things. If we start thinking this way, we will take more ownership of our work and will avoid a servility mentality. The result: Not only will we be happier at work, but we will be more secure and more mobile.

Oh yeah, and more conservative. (Whoops!)

You can listen to the interview here, or by clicking the play button below (my interview starts around the 40-minute mark):

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RJ manages his own blog, and is a co-blogger with me at Values & Capitalism. He also has an unhealthy obsession with Chipotle. You can review all of his V&C posts and podcasts here.

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Long Live the Artificial: Newt Gingrich’s Anti-Bain Blather

Of all the warts Mitt Romney boasts on his big smelly toe, Newt Gingrich and others have decided to attack the one thing Romney has going for him: his business-leader experience in the private sector. (go here for the full scoop)

This week at Values & Capitalism, I offer my critique of the Gingrich(/Obama) view:

Note to Newt: I know we’d all like a 100% success rate, but high-risk investment doesn’t always pay off, and when it doesn’t, bad things happen. Businesses close, people lose their jobs and human suffering abounds. Oh yeah, and another thing: it’s not great for investment firms either.

When these companies failed under Romney’s watch, I doubt that Jolly Fat-Cat Mitt was grinning in his Doctor Claw Chair while stroking a snickering kitty. Anyone who understands anything about investment firms should understand that bad investments are, well, bad.

There’s plenty of basic economic idiocy here, not to mention nostrils-full of that all-too-familiar “pre-conversion” Gingrich stench (does “moldy baloney” capture it?). But throughout all the confused prattle—e.g. Newt’s forthcoming wanna-be Michael Moore project—I find myself haunted by a single, disturbing reality. Some people actually swallow this stuff.

The deeper issue in Gingrich’s thinking — other than his basic goal of political revenge, of course — is his apparent disdain for creative destruction and his implicit worship of the artificial.

More from my piece:

Most of [this] seems to involve an embrace of the artificial—a belief that prosperity can and should be manufactured from the top down and that successful entrepreneurship, innovation, and jobs(!!!!!!!—those are for you, Joe Biden) demand nothing more than Sugar Daddy U.S.A.’s material blessing.

Implicit in such an orientation is a belief that risk can somehow be avoided or subverted—that turning companies around is always possible, that the solution (if there is one) is always accessible/know-able, and that investments will always produce a profit (when all else fails, there’s subsidies…duh!). All you need is a warm and toasty heart and a propensity to use other people’s stuff to Read the rest of this entry »

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Books I Read in 2011

The books I read in 2011 are listed below (alphabetically by author).

I didn’t read as much as I would’ve liked in 2011, and I also didn’t write about what I read as much as I would’ve liked. I hope to provide more reviews and “nuggets” from these books in the upcoming year, as many were impactful in the development of ideas discussed on this blog.

Here were some of my favorites:

  • The Victory of Reason – Rodney Stark
  • For God So Loved, He Gave – Kelly Kapic & Justin Borger
  • The White Man’s Burden – William Easterly
  • Living in God’s Two KingdomsDavid VanDrunen (enjoyment does not equal agreement!)
  • Money, Greed, and God – Jay Richards
  • The Holy Spirit in Mission – Gary Tyra

What did you read? What were your favorites?

Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith – Matthew Lee AndersonLove Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived – Rob BellThe Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession – Peter L. BernsteinThe Law – Frédéric Bastiat

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development – Anthony B. Bradley

Decision Points – George W. BushSelfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think – Bryan CaplanMao: The Unknown Story – Jung Chang

 

 

 

 

 

 

Work: The Meaning Of Your Life – Lester DeKosterBringing Up Boys – James C. DobsonThe White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good – William EasterlyCapitalism and Freedom – Milton Friedman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination – Neal GablerTribes: We Need You to Lead Us – Seth GodenThe Road to Serfdom – Friedrich A. von HayekMere Environmentalism: A Biblical Perspective on Humans and the Natural World – Steven F. Hayward

 

 

 

 

 

 

God So Loved, He Gave: Entering the Movement of Divine Generosity – Kelly M. KapicThe Missional Mom: Living with Purpose at Home and in the World – Helen LeeDefending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom – Peter J. LeithartThe Prince and Other Works – Niccolo Machiavelli

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Blessed Life – Robert MorrisThink: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God – John PiperMoney, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem – Jay W. RichardsThe Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves – Matt Ridley

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error – Kathryn SchulzThe Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression – Amity ShlaesIntellectuals and Society – Thomas SowellThe Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success – Rodney Stark 

 

 

 

 

 

The Holy Spirit in Mission: Prophetic Speech and Action in Christian Witness – Gary TyraBourbon for Breakfast: Living Outside the Statist Quo – Jeffrey TuckerLiving in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture – David VanDrunenSimply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense – N.T. Wright

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Year in Review: Top 10 Posts of 2011

Below are our most-read posts of 2011. Thank you all for your readership and support over the past year. I am truly blessed to have such a dedicated and engaging audience.

Happy New Year!

10. Tougher Questions for Dogmatic Secularists

Alas, I doubt we will ever hear such questions, because it is the Christian beliefs that do not deserve merit or respect in the public square. It is the Christian beliefs that arouse skepticism for their opposition to the secularist’s religious devotion to “serious science.” It is the Christian beliefs that are actually “beliefs.” The rest is simply the facts.

Thus, in the coming election cycle, I expect we shall once again be resigned to hearing President Obama defend his secularist views on Christian turf. Once again, we will have to hear how his “personal” Christian beliefs on homosexuality and abortion don’t matter, because they are obviously subservient to a higher power.

9. Tithes Untapped: The Potential Economic Power of the Church

What if we as a society were to rely on non-compulsory generosity and “cheerful giving”? What if the church actually lived up to its Biblical calling by at least giving tithes on a consistent basis (there is certainly more work to be done)? …The main question: Why doesn’t the church just do what the Bible says at a minimum?

…The outsourcing of charitable responsibility is nothing new, but it is unfortunate that the promotion of such an approach has become such a proud and advertised staple of the ecumenical movement.

8. Anti-Capitalism Christians: Confusion or Hypocrisy?

Of the 46% of Christians who believe capitalism is “at odds” or “inconsistent” with Christian values, how many are themselves actively engaged in the capitalist system?

…If we are really going to take such beliefs seriously, these folks have relatively few options at their disposal. Just as the anti-communism Christian should probably avoid the role of communist dictator or violent proletariat rebel, the anti-capitalism Christian should probably avoid the role of capitalist. Sound unrealistic? You’re on to something.

7. What Can Christians Learn from Ayn Rand?

[F]or me and countless others, [Ayn] Rand challenges us — even inspires us — to critique and solidify our own views on the role of the individual, the other, and, above all, God…[A]dmiring certain features of Rand does not automatically transform one into a blind, anti-altruism zombie. It does not, as Whittaker Chambers famously put it, lead to the gas chamber, even if Rand herself may have been packing her bags for precisely that.

The author of Hebrews wrote that “solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” In discussing Rand, let’s stop pretending that Christians are a bunch of babies. Maybe then we can start separating the poison from the peas.

6. Intellectualism and Evangelicalism: Mental Adultery vs. the Rational Gospel

To disconnect faith from reason, Piper argues, is to diminish one’s love for God. To ignore thinking altogether, as many cushier, more seeker-friendly elements of evangelicalism have aimed to do, is just as treacherous as subverting it, which the [Rob] Bells and the [Don] Millers of the world seem more subtly set on accomplishing…

Yet to disconnect reason from faith is to designate and commit that reason elsewhere, leading to a lack of love altogether. But this particular error is not just reserved for atheists. Indeed, the lazy, passive attitude of the aforementioned lukewarm love often indirectly leads to the committing of one’s mind to the things of this world by default. Chances are, if we are ignoring orthodoxy for orthopraxy, our praxy will end up getting pretty laxy.

5. Collective Bullying: The Social Injustice of Public-Sector Unions

Members of public-sector unions may think that parading a hollow right to specialized coercion is more dignified than complaining about lower salaries, but I find it to be a revelation of something far more sinister.

Listen up, public-sector unions: You are not the victims. You are the pampered and insulated “elite.” The longer you cling to the roots of your institutionalized privilege, the longer injustice will prevail.

4. The Least of These: People or Political Pawns?

[Jim] Wallis commits the basic error of attaching his limited, earthbound, top-down scheming to his bottom-up, heartfelt desires. Through this warped, debased rendering of the Scripture, all that we thought we knew about Matthew 25 suddenly becomes robbed of its most basic message and meaning…

Wallis takes Jesus’ message about people and compassion and turns it into a message about politics and pressure, dragging in all the baggage that comes with it (and there’s a lot). The rich become sinners, the Right become unrighteous, the Left become holy, and the poor become political pawns in a contorted game of God-told-me-to-tell-you-so.

3. Objectivist Ethics vs. Christian Ethics: Is There Any Common Ground?

Not only do Objectivists justify their ethics for different reasons than Christians, Objectivists have arguments against the reasons Christians give for their ethics…

Does this mean that Christians and Objectivists will necessarily clash? On an ethical level, definitely, but on a political level, I’m not sure. It seems that Christians with a particular political philosophy can have the same view as Objectivists on the proper function of government, even if the reasons Christians hold their views differs from the reasons Objectivists hold their views. If this is true, then on a political level, the Objectivist and the Christian would not clash.

2. The Judges of Judgmentalism: Discerning Truth vs. People

In the case of [Rob] Bell’s defenders, many of their claims to anti-judgmentalism assume a pose that is entitled to special treatment. They (and Bell) are allowed to pose controversial questions about the nature of God’s love, while those who disagree with Bell’s arguments are scolded and chided as haters and judgers.

Both are focusing on belief systems and theological claims, but one side is claiming monopolistic authority over who can or should be able to judge the other’s system, which turns it into a discussion about people.

1. Occupy Yourselves: Targeting the Evil, Greedy 100%

Rather than channel our anger and frustration toward a bunch of big shots who may or may not have wronged us, we should look upward, inward, and onward. There is a major value deficit in the world today — there always has been — and we should be constantly looking for ways to sharpen our position toward filling the void, not sit around and cat-call others to do it for us…

We are all sinners prone to vice. We must all seek our own mercy and redemption. It’s about time we turn the megaphone around and listen.

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