Friday, July 19, 2013

Bankrupt In So Many Ways

There was a rather striking article today in Christianity Today.  The general tenor of the article is this:  the city of Detroit is a horribly messed up “Fallen Empire” BUT some Christians are going to bravely stick it out there “hoping better days are coming.”  It is the kind of pathetic and na├»ve thing you hear far too often from certain segments of Christendom.

The article seems to have been written before the announcement that Detroit had declared bankruptcy – at least I could detect not even a mention of that ironic fact in the article.

The author, reflecting the attitudes of the many “hang in there” types trying to “renew” Detroit interviewed in the article, does something now found in a whole genre of Christian periodical writing.  The horrible conditions of Detroit are recounted, but the ultimate reasons behind those conditions are carefully avoided.

Living in Detroit is surely now a most unpleasant experience:  rampant crime, poverty, and social and economic decay are the current norm.  As the article points out, many thousands of Detroit residents have fled those conditions, as any sane person who could would.

But no mention is made of the policies of governments at many levels that made the current condition of Detroit nearly inevitable.  Policy makers who were either very stupid or morally bankrupt both inside Michigan and Detroit and in our imperial D.C. insisted on all sorts of bad policies that funneled Detroit down the path to its current condition.  That condition was both predictable and predicted by many.

Christians can sit around Detroit rehabbing old houses and trying to attract new, small businesses with “sustainability” as long as they wish.  It is perhaps noble effort, and will no doubt help a few people in the short term.  But Detroit will remain a relative ghost town as long as the ideology that insists on policies that lead to social and economic decay remains the rule in Detroit.

Hope all you want, but that hope will be in vain as long as the bad ideas that make Detroit what it is live on there.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


In the right circles you will find a running debate about using the word “capitalism.”  Here is a good example, but there are many more.  This debate is almost always among those who favor the idea economic freedom.

Those who would rather abandon the term have a somewhat standard list of worries.  The list usually begins with the fact that “capitalism” began as a term of derision applied to economic liberty by Marxists.

I sympathize with the “give up the term ‘capitalism’” crowd.  The term does have a lot of negative connections.  It probably is much easier to talk to people about economic freedom without this now very loaded term.  And yet, I wish we could find something that would convey one aspect of matters economic contained in this word in whatever name we might use.

As I was mowing the yard the other day and thinking about this, that, and the other thing (the mind must do something while pushing a lawn mower back and forth) I began to think how little-valued economic capital is today.  Capital is, to simplify matters, economic wealth that is not consumed, but is rather used to create means of production, or tools.  Realize that “tools” here does not just refer to wrenches and such, but included anything used to create other goods and services.

People producing, consuming, saving and exchanging where economic freedom is the rule might not have a bias toward the capital aspect of things economic.  But the thing that is made possible by economic freedom that tends to produce economic prosperity is the accumulation of capital.

Life is relatively easy for us here and now because our ancestors did not consume everything they produced.  Rather, they invested significant portions of their production in things they could not immediately consume, but which would be used to make even more of the things the did want to consume.

I think we tend to forget, or underestimate, the wonder and value of capital.  Unlike our ancestors, we tend to save very little these days – and remember, capital comes from “savings.”  This is not just a personal financial failing on the part of many.  Because we tend to want everything, want it NOW, and usually borrow money to buy it, there is often nothing left for savings and the capital that can result from savings.

We seem to think that the vast array of things that are used to make the things we want just appear magically, from someone else, maybe from “the government.”  That is not the case and cannot be the case.  One of the greatest contributions to economic well-being that anyone can make is not consuming everything he has and investing that in things that make things.  If the things that make the things we want were even to begin to be not replaced, we would soon be very unhappy indeed.

So, while I do not have a good answer to the debate about using the term “capitalism” I do very much appreciate the thing denoted by the term “capital.”  The possibility of its existence and use is one of the greatest material gifts God has given us.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Thugs Anonymous

Yesterday I was washing our car and listening to a small, pocket-sized “transistor” radio, as they used to be called.  On came the local news.  One item dealt with the Cincinnati Zoo.  There is a proposal to put a tax levy on the ballot soon for the zoo.  In the typical and now a bit annoying “sound bite from someone to make the story more personal” style, some voice popped on for a few seconds to say something like, “I think the zoo makes a contribution to our city and deserves our support.”

I like the Cincinnati Zoo.  I have visited it occasionally throughout my now not so short life.  It is enjoyable.  It is even historic.  I think having a zoo is a good idea.  But I wouldn’t want my grandmother to be evicted from her house by the sheriff to have a zoo, or anything else, for that matter.

The tax levy for the zoo will be a property tax levy.  Every year such a levy is in effect, if you don’t pay your “zoo tax” your property will be confiscated and sold.  News reports about such property tax levies almost always imply that they are not very much.  But the size of such a tax is not the problem.  The many problems with such taxes is that they harbor all sorts of unseen negatives.

For example, takes the size of the levy.  No matter how small, for someone, somewhere, the smallest extra tax can be the one that put things over the edge for someone of limited means.  Then many of the same people who want to tax you for a zoo want to tax you to help the homeless.

But even for those who can easily afford such a tax, there are many unseen consequences.

When we tax our neighbors for a zoo, we are telling them, under threat of taking away their houses and property, that they must like what we like.  This is arrogance at its worst.  There is simply no justifiable way to claim that spending money for a zoo is better than spending money on, say, a family vacation, a book, an electronic device, all the imaginable other possibilities, or even saving it for retirement.

As sane, socially acceptable, and sanitized as it might seem, forcing people via tax levies to buy what you want with their money is the worst possible use of democracy and little more than legalized thuggery.  And yet we do it so often, so glibly, and often so smugly.

A zoo is nice, and so are many other things.  But treating your neighbor like your slave is not.