Thursday, December 4, 2008

Addiction Recovery

Sunday we had a someone from LDS Social Services speak to us about their twelve point addiction recovery program (They call it ARP). Most of the sessions involve recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. The next highest number of sessions currently available deals with pornography and sexual addictions. The least number (and let's face it, the one that should have the most number of sessions, at least, in my area of the world) deals with eating and over-eating addictions.

Last week I viewed the new film, "Happy Valley" which deals with the drug addiction problem in Utah Valley--the "Happy Valley" of the title. After both of these presentations I couldn't help but ask myself, "Why is addiction to self-destructive behaviors such a problem in our society?"

In his wonderful book, "The Free Market and Its Enemy", Leonard Read states, without any proof, that it is his conviction that anyone living completely in the free market will not descend into that market and "vote against himself." I agree, which says that few of us, no matter how much we believe ourselves to be operating in the free market, are actually doing so, because most of us go into the what we view as the free market and "vote against ourselves". Mr. Read himself, according to his biographer, Mary Sennholz, went into the free market every day and bought exactly 18 cigarettes--his daily ration of self-destructive votes. The very fact that he so scrupulously limited himself to exactly 18 must have been an indication to him that there was a problem, unless by an interesting bit of logic or evidence, he actually believed that smoking 18 cigarettes was beneficial but with the 19th they suddenly become destructive. In one of his books he tells how annoyed he was at a FEE board of directors meeting when the director sitting next to him chided him for drinking coffee. (I have always wondered if the director in question was Ezra Taft Benson--I can't imagine anyone else on the board of directors who would care). But the very fact that he took umbrage must have been an indicator to him that he really somehow felt that he was "voting against himself". If for example they had chided him for drinking orange juice, I think he would have merely responded, "I like orange juice and believe furthermore, that it does me good."

My own conviction is that the depth of our addictions is also, in a sense, the measure of the depth of our enslavement. We are told that the people of the communist countries had a horrible problem with alcohol--a problem that apparently no amount of rules, laws, or strict enforcement could alter.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


I conclude my series on thankfulness with a couple of thoughts about it.

Sunday night the Burmese refugees gathered in their apartment complex to celebrate the coming of the month in which Christ was born. They gathered, sang hymns, watched Christian videos, and similar activities starting at 6:00 PM. Then at midnight they gathered in prayer. I am deeply touched by this expression of gratitude for their Savior. I reflect on my own situation. Here are people who were driven from their homeland (they were forced out of Burma into refugee camps in Thailand) because of their religion (Christianity is an unpopular minority religion in Burma) and the fact that they are different in other ways. But I wonder if I would have that same fortitude. Of course, America is corrupting many of them even now. Some are beginning to struggle with problems that they could hardly have imagined in Burma or Thailand, i. e. drugs, alcohol, pornography and the like, but I suspect that most of them will raise above those things. What will assist them in that struggle is that they also must struggle with something that many Americans never experience--poverty. None of us wants to be poor, but poverty does often--not always--make us more humble and that is a good thing. Better, of course, is to have plenty and still be humble, but that is very difficult. Christianity is dying worldwide, because its adherents refuse to make the sacrifices necessary to keep humble.

I read much conservative literature and in that literature there is much brow beating about the raise of "evil Islam" and the decline of Christianity. They predict that in just a few years, Europe will be more Islam than Christian. It is not hard to see why. The daily practice of prayer and the regular practice of fasting have all but disappeared in the lives of most Christians. I am reminded of something I saw in a video by John McDougal--a man I greatly admire. He went to his church (he is a Methodist) and heard a sermon about the plight of starving people somewhere and decided that it would help him to understand their plight if he fasted a couple of meals. He did that and then, in the video, describes the absolute agony he went through with this experience and the joy he had in finally--after missing two meals--being able to eat again. He concludes the section on the video by stating that he decided that missing meals was not a good way to appreciate the plight of the poor--too much of a sacrifice. My own reaction was different. I was amazed. Here is a man, presumbably a Christian, who apparently goes to church at least occaisionally, has probably a passing familiarity with the Bible, and yet, has gone his whole life and fasted once for two meals? The devout follower of Islam, of whom I have known a few, carry on such fasts for an entire month out of every year. They pray at least five times every day, and we wonder why Christianity is losing out to them? When I was in Germany, the population was 90% Christian, the churches--on a typical Sunday, not Easter or Christmas--were 99% empty. Most Germans had never in their lives offered up a formal prayer, much less fasted on a regular basis. As I contemplate my Burmese friends, I am grateful for the reminder that there are Christians who care about Christ.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Today I complete my expressions of gratitude for freedom. I think that we should all focus much more than we do on the freedoms we now have and worry less about the ones we are losing, as discouraging as it is to lose them.

I believe that we have more freedom than most countries because we have a heritage of the belief in God as the source of freedom. The apostle Paul tells us that where the Spirit of God is, there is freedom. Obviously, as we lose one, we lose the other. Jesus in a very famous statement said, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Although almost everyone acknowledges the importance of truth as a precusor to freedom, there is widespread disagreement as to what is true. Much of the problem, I believe, is the fact that we tend to forget the first part of the scripture. "Then spake Jesus to those Jews who believed on him, 'If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed, and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." It is clear that there are at least three things necessary for us before we can be free-- belief, obedience, and truth. Too often we forget the importance of the first two. Jesus spoke to people who were, if not in bondage, at least, in subjection to a foreign power, and therefore, not really politically free. His prescription, therefore, is more intended to apply to us as individuals and families. We are, or at least have been, "a free country" because many individuals in our country followed the formula.

On this Thanksgiving I hope and pray that I can be truly grateful for the freedoms I have, but more importantly, determine to deepen my belief in God, strengthen the resolve to be obedient to the truths I already have, and expand my knowledge of truth so I may increase the measure of freedom I already enjoy. That would be my wish this season for us all.

Monday, November 17, 2008

On the falling price of oil

I intended this bit of tongue-in-cheek cynacism as a letter to the editor of the Deseret News, but I realized that it was much too long to for that purpose so I publish it here.

November 17, 2008
Dear Editor:
Have you purchased gas lately? Don’t you realize what is happening? Our oil companies are going broke! What is needed is an immediate, massive, unprecedentedly huge, government bailout to save our oil companies. To get the ball rolling I contacted all of our political leaders. Of course, I was unable to speak with them directly but their assistants assured me (under conditions of anonymity, of course) that their sentiments were exactly the same as their boss’s and I could, therefore quote them as if coming straight from the boss himself.
Senator Hatch was all in favor of the bailout. He said it reminded him of his efforts some years ago to save our textile industry when a company from some small Asian country began dumping textiles on the American market. It turns out that they had been able to make these textiles because they had made pirated replicas of an American Spinning Jenny that they had copied from the display model at the Smithsonian Institute.
I was somewhat hesitate to approach Senator Bennet because I remembered all those ads he had done in his first campaign about how concerned he was about the National Debt, but when I finally did get up the nerve he just laughed and said he hadn’t thought about the National Debt for years. He said he is all in favor of the bailout, no matter how expensive, as long as it can be pushed through before President Bush leaves office. With a Democratic administration in office he said he is going to have to start worrying about the National Debt again.
Congressman Bishop was skeptical about a bailout until I pointed out that it would mean there would be no more jet fuel. With his usual insight, he realized immediately that this bailout was therefore a key component of his ongoing effort to keep Hill Field in Utah.
Congressman Matheson said he was unalterably opposed to any bailout for any private companies, but when I pointed out that what with regulations, subsidies, wind-fall profit taxes, etc., the oil companies were essentially a branch of the Federal Government, he agreed that by all means we should go ahead with the bailout. He even thanked me for bringing a bailout to his attention that he could wholeheartedly support.
Jason Chavetz said he would support a bailout only if it included a condition that the oil companies could not hire anyone who speaks, reads, or writes Spanish. He did say that he felt that we should not be hard-nosed about conditions like this and that he would agree to an exception if the employee could prove that he learned his Spanish at a junior high named after an American President.
I also contacted the economics and business professors at the U of U. They said that they were always in favor of any measure to increase government spending but they were particularly excited about this one so long as it includes some very harsh language about the almost criminal behavior of the oil company executives. They said that this sneaky lowering of prices is just one more proof--as if any more were needed--of the irresponsibility, mismanagement, and greed of corporate officials.
But, this is so serious that not only our political and intellectual leaders, but the average citizen must get involved as well. They can begin, if they buy their gas with an oil company credit card by adding an exact amount of dollars, in increments of $10 up to $2000, to their credit card payment. The oil company will then realize that this is a charitable contribution and will use it to help them raise gasoline prices to a more reasonable level. This effort is so important that a non-profit organization called, Save the Oil Companies/Corporations & Energy Resources (SOCCER), has been formed with Gov. Jon Huntsman as Chairman. He says that as long as they can get a person from the East with a Utah reputation to back him up, he will put all the resources of the Utah State Government behind this effort, no matter how many people in Utah oppose it, because SOCCER is something he really believes in.
As you can see, this bailout is critical, it may already be too late. Unless we get an immediate, gargantuan, government bailout of our oil companies our whole free enterprise system may be in peril!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Reflections on the recent election-2

The paper yesterday (11/12/08) headlined that "most confident that Obama can fix the economy". It is discouraging to me that so many Americans seem to have forgotten that ultimately the only tool a president, or anyone else in government for that matter, has to fix the economy is a sword. In past elections we have been given the choice between two candidates, one who is all for brandishing the sword with greater swagger and one who is for sheathing it, partially at least, but in this election each presidential candidate was simply out to prove to the largest number of people possible that he would be the best swordsman in their behalf. Obama was clearly the winner in that contest.

But as I contemplate what is necessary to fix the economy, I mean really fix it, I can't help be a bit skeptical about "most people's confidence". One thing Mr. Obama could do as president, for example, is change the tax laws so that individuals and even most small companies did not have to hire a tax accountant to "do their taxes". This would remove an enormous drag on our economy and free up much needed capital. He could encourage the repeal of laws providing subsidies, regulations, grants and other legal aids to people and corporations thus removing the motivation to hire lobbyists and lawyers, thus again removing another enormous drag on our economy.

With the law thus simplified the ordinary citizen would be more motivated to live by the laws that are almost universally accepted in theory, such as the traffic laws, instead of feeling that there are so many laws why try to live by any of them if they are inconvient or if we happen to be too drunk or even too sleepy to abide by them. This would provide a tremendous reduction in the number of personal injury attorneys and other losses to the economy due to disobedience to laws that even those who disobey them agree to in theory.

I wonder if Mr. Obama will be able, or even try, to reduce the number of people in our country who are determined to live directly at the expense of others through stealing or fraud or gambling. I wonder if anything he suggests will reduce the number of people who live partially or completely at the expense of others because their use (and abuse) of drugs and alcohol have made them less (or completely) unproductive. Will we have fewer people with cancer, or diabetes, or heart disease, or obesity, causing an enormous drain on our economy, when Mr. Obama becomes president? Or will he continue to spend money in an attempt to cure these problems without so much as addressing possible lifestyle connections?

Will he, like so many of the economists at our most prestigous university, refuse to acknowledge the correlation between the erosion of our currency and the erosion of our character? Or will he, like them, and most in the media, refuse to acknowledge any correlation at all between character and the economy?

Will we have fewer of our people in prisons under Mr. Obama? The same day that people were expressing confidence in Mr. Obama to fix the economy, a man in my city was arrested for sexually attacking young children. He was released today because there was no room for him in the jail, thus making it necessary for those of us in this city to spend our resources to do what the government should be doing--providing protection from such. Will we be able to dispense with the cost of private security systems, carefully gated communities, special school police and maybe even locks on our cars, our homes, and our important papers when Mr. Obama becomes president?

Will we have more people living up to their commitments? Will we have fewer adulterers, less pornography, and hence, fewer men (with many simply giving up and becoming dead-beat dads), trying to support multiple families? Will people honor the promises they made across the altar at marriage? Will our children feel more secure from the devastation of divorce?

I, like everyone else, wish the best for President-elect Obama, not only for my sake, but more especially for the sake of my children and grandchildren. But in everything I have heard him say I cannot help but believe that at the end of his term--be it 4 or 8 years--in office that we will have more tax accountants, more lawyers and more lobbyists. Our money will be worth less and we will have more people addicted to drugs and alcohol. Our people will be sicker, sadder, and and both their persons and their property--and worst of all, our children--will be less secure. My greatest fear is that more--many more of our people will be determined, through either personal or public means, to live at the expense of others. And that cannot in any permanent way, "fix the economy".

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Today I continue my expression of gratitude for freedom.

My earliest memories were of post WWII Germany where Dad was involved with the war crimes trials. I vividly remember the despair and poverty of the German people at that time. I now realize that part, if not most, of that despair stemmed from dashed expectations. In a sense, the German people had bet the store on Hitler and had lost.

I have often wondered what would have happened if Hitler had won the war. How would our lives be different? In one sense, of course, he did win the war. That is the sense outlined so clearly and unforgettably in Frederick Hayek's wonderful book, "The Road to Serfdom". Writing at the end of the war, but before it was completely won, Hayek pointed out that although it was unlikely that the Germans would be ruling Britain, the ideas that had motivated the Germans were already, in large measure, ruling Britain, i.e. the ideas of central planning and socialism. The idea that government can be, and even should be, the provider of last resort. Those ideas were so deeply imbued in the minds and hearts of Englishmen at the time Hayek wrote that they made no stir whatsoever and I doubt that we would have ever even heard of Hayek were it not for the fact that his book was given a powerful review by Henry Hazlitt and subsequently became a bestseller in America, largely because there was enough of the spirit of independence left in America that the idea of becoming a society of subserviants to central planners was still disturbing. Today, of course, we have traveled a long way down that road. And, it is important, I believe that we ask ourselves about freedom. What is it? Why is it important, or is it? Can I, to use Harry Browne's famous words, "be free in an unfree world?" If so, how?

I begin the exploration by reflecting on a couple of my experiences in Germany when I returned there in the early 1960's. At that time there was a small resurgence of Neo-Nazi sentiment. The German government in alarm, flooded the TV programming (there were only two channels--both government controlled) with anti-Nazi material. Predictably, there was a backlash of anti-anti-Nazi sentiment. I vividly remember two comments of people telling me why they had supported Hitler.

The first came from a lady I greatly admired, who was, during the Hitler regime, a devout Catholic--a person I thought would have been adamantly opposed to Hitler. On the contrary, she reported, "I supported him wholeheartedly--we all did. Before Hitler our children were getting into all kinds of bad things, things totally foreign to German tradition and culture, things like drugsand pornography. Hitler took the youth and got them into good things. After Hitler you could be proud of your children again."

The second comment was one I heard reiterated almost more often than any other except the almost universal comment that "Hitler got us all working again." It went something like this. "Of course, I supported Hitler. Before Hitler you hardly dared walk the streets of the city at night. Some parts of town you didn't dare go into even during the day. After Hitler, if you accidentally left your wallet on a park bench or at a bus stop, you could return the next day and be sure that if it wasn't where you left it, it was at the Lost and Found office of City Hall with all the money you left in it still there. The streets, any streets, anywhere, were safe day and night."

In a sense, of course, these people were saying that under Hitler they were actually freer than they had been before he came to power. There is a problem with all this, besides the obvious regimentation behind it. This was usually mentioned as an aside when people made comments like those above with an off-hand addendum like, "if only he hadn't started the war" or "if only he hadn't done what he did to the Jews". The real problem was that Hitler was doing what would more appropriately be done at the family and local government level. And that is precisely, in my opinion, where freedom fails. Freedom is defined by the actions and habits and mores of our people, our families, and our local communities. When we turn those over to the central authority, no matter how good a job it seems they are doing, freedom falters. But, until it does completely we should be grateful and cherish what remains.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


On Veterann's day I express my thanks for my freedom. We are always admonished that we should express gratitude for those who sacrificed by serving in the Armed Forces so that we could enjoy our freedoms. I am a sort of a veteran myself. I was drafted with the idea that I would be sent to Viet Nam, but by the time I had finished basic training and done some on the job training at White Sands Missile Range, the war was winding down, so I was never sent and I spent my time at White Sands learning how terribly corrupting a government job can be, and usually is. It was for me, and for almost everyone I knew. Nevertheless, I am grateful for those who really did sacrifice, even though, I suspect, for many, as for me, the sacrifice was not entirely voluntary.

It is, of course, quite a different story for many who served in WWII. My father, and I suspect many others of our soldiers, volunteered before they were drafted. Dad was rejected, and ever afterwards felt so about it. In a sense, he served because he was involved in the war crimes trials after the war. Of course, WWII was quite different from Korea or Viet Nam or Iraq today, in the sense that we got militarily involved only after we had been attacked. One hopes that the books stating that Roosevelt set up the attack at Pearl Harbor so we would get involved are untrue.

The fact remains, however, that we lost as much in the way of freedom from most of our wars as we gained, if not more so. Nevertheless, we should be grateful for what we have, and I am.

Adam Smith, after going on The Grand Tour of Europe reported that the people in every country were proud of their freedom, but that they really did not understand it very well. I suspect that that is true of us today. We look back on the conditions in most of those countries and wonder, "how could they be proud of their freedom? What freedom?" Most of them did not enjoy the freedoms of which we are most proud, i.e. freedom of religion, of speech, and of the press. They, on the other hand, if they could look at our situation, would undoubtedly be aghast at the per cent of our incomes that we give to governments at all levels and would exclaim,"You call that freedom?" They would probably view the enormous amount of governement regulation of our lives and our economy and mutter, "Those people are little better than slaves." The most intriguing question for me would be, "Would they envy our lifestyle or our comparitive wealth?" Some probably would, others would declare it not worth the cost.

At any rate, I am grateful for the freedoms we do enjoy. In future entries, I will explore what it would be like not have those freedoms.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Thoughts on the election

My wife, Shauna, teaches in a small private school, Capitol Hills Academy, whose students are mostly from the lower middle class. Some of the things that occured there after the election are interesting.

She has two young (she teaches first throught third grades) black boys in her class. One came to class Wednesday morning very outspoken. "Obama's family were slaves so now he wants to make us all slaves. I don't think it's fair. Just because he is a slave is no reason to make us slaves. " He then turned to the other black student and said, "I suppose you are happy about the election?" To which the other student replied, "Of course, he will be a great president."

Both boys, of course, reflect the outlook of their parents, but it is good to know that there is at least one black student here that is a potential replacement for Thomas Sowell or Clarence Thomas.

In the older class, taught by Jodie Millard, the students were for the most part jubilant over the election of Obama. When Jodie asked why, the typical response was, "Now there will be no more rich and no more poor. We will all be equal." "And you think that is good?" Jodie asked incredulously. "Of course," was the typical response.

Jodie decided to show the students what it meant at a practical level. She gave the scheduled spelling test that day. The next day, when the papers were turned back, they were duly marked--the correct answers checked, the incorrect answers x'ed, but the students found that no matter what their tallies in terms of correct or incorrect, everyone got the same grade--a "C". One of the top students in the class, one who had been most excited about "everyone will now be equal" protested vociferously, but Jodie merely reminded him that "we now live in a country where everyone is equal". The next day the boy's father showed up at the school, saying generally he liked the school, but it was absolutely unfair that his son, who was a very diligent student should be given the average grade for the class. His son, of course, was merely expressing the sentiment he had heard at home when he praised Obama for making everyone equal, but like so many others, the parents actually complained bitterly when the policy meant having less than they felt they had earned.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Today I conclude my series on why I believe we should be grateful for the right to vote and why I believe we should exercise that right even in national elections where our vote cannot possibly affect the outcome, at least, not directly.

In national elections it was Frank Chodorov who said that we should not vote because voting gives legitimacy to the government. He cited the Soviet Union with its record (at that time) of a 98% participation in elections, even though in most cases, there was not only no opposition party but not even opposing candidates from the Communist Party. I have a different take on that situation than Mr. Chodorov. I believe that they were simply trying to show that they were a better "democracy" than the so-called democracies in the western world. In almost exactly the same way, the Soviets built model stores, housing complexes, hotels, and other buildings with the sole purpose to impress visitors that they were as good or better than the US.

I will never forget my own experience in East Berlin several years before the fall of the Wall. I went, along with several other American tourists on a guided tour of East Berlin. At the end of the tour we were taken down a street with beautiful new apartment buildings. At the end of the block there was a large hotel. As we pulled into the drive-in circle and came out of the bus, we saw the man in the large Mercedes in front of our bus toss his keys to a valet who proceeded to drive the car around the hotel into what we assumed was the parking terrace. When we got into the hotel it was a bee-hive of activity. We entered the stunningly decorated, spacious lobby with a huge, wide staircase leading, we assumed, to the hotel suites. As we entered people were coming down the staircase and approaching the desk. As it was their turn they demanded to be given reservations to various other cities in Europe. Others were announcing that they had just arrived from some place in Europe and wished to be shown to their rooms. I didn't feel too well so I stepped out of the hotel and sat down on the front step. Our guide followed me and in somewhat of an alarmed voice demanded to know what I was doing. I said I didn't feel too well and just needed to get some fresh air. She said that would be OK but instructed me not to leave the hotel premises and asked that I go to the gift shop as soon as I felt better. I had planned to do that but after a few minutes I became fascinated with the fact that no one either came in or left the hotel. No car, no person, no taxis, nothing. In the 45 minutes I sat on the stair, until we left to return to West Berlin no one or no thing entered or left that hotel. It dawned on. The whole thing was a gigantic act. The people running up to the desk were not tourists, they were actors. I suspect that the nice apartments on the rest of the street were exactly like the dreary, run-down apartment houses that we had seen in the rest of East Berlin, only with a nice facade. But the point is that just because they wanted us to think that they had luxurious hotels, appealing and comfortable residential housing and probably other things had we gone on a more extensive tour, does not mean that those things are bad. We wouldn't destroy our hotels because the Soviets wanted them. Likewise, just because the Soviets wanted us to think they had a better or real democracy by requiring a large voter turn-out, is certainly no reason for us not to vote.

In my opinion the single biggest reason to cherish our right to vote is because it is almost the only vestige of our governmental system that adhers to the political creed: "all men are created equal". Indeed, I suspect, that that is the primary reason that so many libertarians, like Mr. Boudreaux are so opposed to voting. Mr. Boudreaux acknowledges that he is a skeptic, i. e. he does not even believe that "all men are created" much less that they are created equal. For the skeptic, no matter what his pretensions, man is an accident and it takes an angel, in which, of course, skeptics do not believe, to believe anything but that he is a fortunate accident and everyone else is a less fortunate accident and most are a catastrophe. In the case of Mr. Boudreaux, we know from his article that not only does he believe himself to be better than others, but better than most others combined. He says in his article, "I implicitly agree--by voting--that the process of selecting people to exercise power over me is legitimate". In other words, he does not feel that he should be subject rules at any level of government. He is to be the sole determiner of what is right and what is wrong for himself, at least.

The right to vote tells us that in the eyes of the law I am as valuable as the next man, and he, in turn, is as valuable as me. We need, therefore, in my opinion, to cling to this last vestige of equality before the law.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Today I continue with the idea that we should be grateful for the opportunity to vote. As I did yesterday, I will be responding to Donald Boudreaux's argument in his article, "I will not vote" which is basically that it is simply a waste of time since a single vote can hardly affect the outcome of an election. I admitted to seeing some truth to this argument for large populations--say a presidential or a senatorial election--but no merit in it for small populations such as a local election. Mr. Boudreaux's response to my letter was that two researcher's, Brennan and Lomasky had shown that even for small populations such as a town with only 1000 registered voters for which a local election might result in as few as 80 voters, the chances of a single vote affecting the outcome is as small as an election involving a million voters. Today I want to use an example that will get us closer to the objections to voting raised by Frank Chodorov. Essentially, these are that by voting we lend legitimacy to a government with which we might not agree. I will deal with this argument explicitly in a later issue. Mr. Boudreaux, incidentally, touches on it in his own article, but very lightly.

At one time Mr. Boudreaux was the department chairman of the Econ Dept of George Mason University. I will use his position to postulate my example. Suppose that the president of the university has proposed that the various micro-economic classes currently being taught at the university in various colleges all be transferred to the Econ Dept., e. g. the Engineering Economics class currently under the auspices of the engineering dept. would be transferred to the Econ. Dept. This would also be done for budgeting classes taught in the Home Ec Dept., medical econ. classes in the med school, legal econ in the law school, etc. The proposal is that the transfer be as neutral as possible in terms of budget. This is made possible by the fact that currently all such classes are actually taught by graduate students and it is foreseen that this would continue to be the case. The only change would be that currently the classes are listed in the catalogue under the various departments and are supervised by Professors in those departments. Under the proposed arrangement they would all be listed under economics and would be supervised by economics professors.

At a meeting involving all the professors involved, including all the professors in the econ dept., there is a very lively discussion. The economics professors are pretty much divided on the issue. Some feel that providing oversight to the classes would involve learning a great deal more about the specific subjects, engineering, home ec, medicine, etc., than they care to learn. Others feel that this would provide an opportunity to introduce students who would not normally take a regular econ class to some important concepts in macro-economics, as well as give a bit broader view of micro economics than they are currently receiving. The professors in the other departments are pretty much all opposed to the idea.

Since the discussion generates so much feeling, Mr. Boudreaux decides that it would be best to have a secret ballet, taken at the university testing center. Only the 20 members of the economics dept. and the 20 members of the other depts directly invovled in the change would be allowed to vote. Accordingly, Mr. Boudreaux provides a list of the 40 names to the head of the testing center with instructions that only those on the list be allowed to vote and at the end of the day allowed for voting the names crossed off of those who actually voted is to be destroyed so that no one can know who did and who did not vote.

In our hypothetical example, the testing center is across the campus from the economics dept. and involves either a lengthy walk or driving and looking for parking, i.e. a bit of a time sacrifice is involved. The members of the econonomics department, under the close supervision of Mr. Boudreaux have all studied the work of Brennan and Lomasky and, are, therefore, fully aware that one vote in 40 is as unlikely to determine the outcome as 1 in a million, so, with one exception, the newest member of the faculty who has not yet taken the time to thoroughly master the concepts in B & L, no one in the department votes. The members in the other departments all vote, hence, only 21 votes are cast.

My purpose in using this example is to point out that in one sense, Mr. Boudreaux is perfectly correct. There is little point in the members of the economics department voting. The people in the other departments are pretty much against the issue and the econ dept. is divided. The outcome, therefore, is clear. There is, of course, always the possibility that several of the people in the other departments are also aware of the work of B & L and, therefore also don't vote, but that is not likely. As diligently as I have studied engineering economics, I have never heard of Brennan and Lomasky. If engineers, who, as almost everyone concedes, know almost everything worth knowing, have never studied those two men's work, it is extremely unlikely that the professors in home ec, law, medicine, etc, are familiar with it either. But my point here is that the vote, in this case, and almost all cases involving local voting, transcends the outcome. If, for example, the president of the university were to ask for the outcome and were told that only 21 of the 40 possible people voted, he would feel, rightly, in my opinion, that there was a great deal of culpable apathy at his university. If he were informed by the head of the testing center, that although, he would not name the specific people involved, only one professor from the econ dept. voted, he would wonder at their desire to be involved in the affairs, other than their most immediate duties, of the university.

And that is precisely the point. Voting in a local election does precisely what Mr. Chodorov and Mr. Boudreaux say they do not want done--it lends legitimacy to the work of local government. And that is what is most desperately needed in America today--a sense of loyalty and legitimacy of involvment with local affairs.

Monday, November 3, 2008


I took the month of October off from my blog. This month, because it is Thanksgiving, I am going to offer comments on various things for which I am grateful.

I begin with gratitude for the right to vote. Most of us, myself included, will be grateful when this election is finally over, but still, in my opinion, we should be very grateful for the right to vote.

I am grateful that The Freeman magazine published my letter in its October edition in which I responded to Donald Boudreaux's article entitled "I Won't Vote". The main thrust of Mr. Bourdeaux's argument is that voting is a waste of time since a single vote has almost zero probability of affecting the outcome of an election. I argued that while that may be true in national elections, it is not true in local elections which are frequently decided by a handful of votes. He in turn responded quoting the work of two men, Geoffrey Brennan and Loren Lomasky, that even in elections with small voting populations, single votes have little affect on the outcome. He says that even in a locality with only 1000 registered voters this would be the case. Since in a local election--one chosing city councilmen or school board members--the number of actual votes cast, assuming that the town is similar to my own, would range from 80 to 150 votes, Brennan and Lomasky are saying that a single vote is essentially worthless at very small populations. It would have been interesting had Mr. Boudreaux, rather than merely refer us to the text, which I doubt very much many of us have access to, told us at what threshold a man going to the polls could feel that his effort to go and vote would be worthwhile. Since they apparently feel that in a field of 80 voters it is not worthwhile, my own guess is that the number is quite small, probably of the order of 20 or 30 or even smaller.

Later, I will deal with my own conviction that we should be grateful for the right to vote even if our vote does not, as Mr. Boudreaux argues makes absolutely no difference, which I agree with him is certainly true in very large populations such as a state or national election, but right now I want to look at the smaller populations. In local elections, I believe, as I stated in my response, we should be not only grateful for the right to vote, but make sure that we exercise that right. I will try to illustrate with an example.

Supposing you live in a town with only two thousand registered voters--a situation approximating my own situation. In a local election two city councilmen are being chosen each from separate districts of one thousand registered voters each. The city coucil consists of 5 members, three of whom are "at large", and two of whom represent smaller districts. This also approximates my own situation. In our example, the 3 at large members of the council are not up for election this year.

The big issue in the election is, should the city hall be replaced. It is older, but still perfectly functional, but advocates for replacement point out that a new building would have many built in features accomodating newer technologies making city government, they claim, more efficient, and would also be made bigger, thus allowing for future expansion. Governments are generally eager to allow for future expansion. The problem, of course, is that this would necessitate an increase in taxes. Let us assume that you, as a voter, feel that this is not only not necessary, but even undesireable, and, therefore, you cast your vote for the candidate that opposes replacing the city hall. The day after the election you discover that (1) the issue was of strong enough interest to attract 20% of the registered voters in both districts--an unusually large turnout for a local election, and (2) in both districts, the candidate opposing the new city hall won by a large margin, approximately 120 to 80, in modern American politics, essentially, a landslide victory. Of course, you note immediately, that Mr. Boudreaux citing Brennan and Lomasky, was correct. Your vote did not decide the outcome. Without you the candidate you favored would still have won. Was it worth the ten to twenty minutes it took out of your day to cast your vote? My argument is, even though you did not directly effect the outcome, it was. The reason is that the election in a representative style government never really decides the issue. In this case, the at large councilmen could still vote for a city hall, however, the fact that the candidates voting for the new city hall were so handily defeated sends a clear message that the residents do not desire a new building. This would have a decided effect on the deliberations on the issue.

In my next blog, I will address reasons that, I believe, should give us reasons for being grateful for our right to vote on local issues--an area where I feel we should be much more involved and for which we should cherish all our rights much more than we do.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Movies--6--Bells are Ringing

I was reminded of this little gem of a movie musical by an article by Pat Buchanan entitled "The Party's Over" about the recent financial debacle. I will refer to the article later because it is so completely different than the party's being over in this movie.

The movie is about a girlnamed Ella Peterson, played by Judy Holliday, who works as a switchboard operator for an answering service. However, she goes beyond just answering the phone for the clients by giving them advice and in other ways getting involved with their concerns. For example, one of the clients uses her to tell her son what Santa Claus would like him to do. Her extra involvement with the clients is a concern of her boss, played by Jean Stapleton. As an aside, there must be at least twenty years separating this movie from "You've Got Mail" which also features Jean Stapleton, but she looks (and acts) the same in both. Our heroine is particularly concerned about a client who apparently is having trouble meeting a committment to write a play. He is continually getting calls demanding to know how the writing is coming--calls which he does not return. Finally, Ella decides to take matter into her own hands and, finding his address in company records, go and sits on him, initially literally and then figuratively, until he begins work on his play. For some reason, she decides that her own name is too prosaic, so she tells the playwright, played by Dean Martin, that her name is Mellissante Scott. They develop, first a working relationship and then a romantic attachment. He invites her to a party hosted by the producer of his play. The party is attended by people who clearly hope to get "in the big time" by dropping names of famous people with whom they supposedly associate. They sing a very clever song about the name-dropping bit. But while at the party, Ella realizes that these are not her kind of people. She is not, after all, "Mellissante Scott", she is plain old Ella Peterson. In this moment of self-recognition, she writes the playwright a "good-bye" note, leaves the party, and as she returns to her work, she sings the beautiful, plaintive ballad, "The Party's Over". Of course, it all works out in the end, because she is the kind of person for whom the party is never over, it is just a different kind of party--the party of always helping and serving people. As the movie ends we see Dean Martin and Judy Holliday walking hand in hand on their way to the real party--a party that will undoubtedly involve many of clean-up chores she mentions in her song, but they will, besides dirty dishes most likely also involve dirty diapers, but there will be much of happiness as well as some heart ache.

Which brings me back to Pat Buchanan. The "party" to which he refers is the collapse of many of the financial institutions of late. But unlike Ella, Pat has had no realization of who he really is. He is, after all, one of the big-names who enjoys dropping even bigger names. His article is not plaintive, it is bitter. He clearly does not want the party to end. He is doubtlessly convinced that with bigger tariffs and more restrictions and other government action, the party can continue. For him and his type, almost anyone who sees the solutions to life's problems in the granting of special benefits through law, the real party will never really begin.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Movies--5--How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

In two previous reviews--Holiday for Love and Sabrina--I have criticized the Hollywood portrayal of business. This movie, originally a play, is a deliberate spoof on the business world. Of course, what makes a spoof funny is that there is an element of truth in the spoof. In this spoof we have a fictional company making a fictional product. Almost no one in the company knows what the product actually does or is used for. The division of labor makes this entirely possible. As Leonard Read pointed out in his marvelous essay, "I, Pencil", thousands of people contribute to the making of pencils that have no idea what a pencil even is. This is as true within individual companies as it is between companies that do business with each other. A secretary for a company that makes electrical transducers may not have a clue what a transducer is or does and yet be a marvelous secretary making a vital contribution to the company. In this movie the product is "wickets" and apparently no one knows what one is or does.

The basic story is that a young man obtains one of the myriad "how-to-do-it" manuals with the same title as the movie, and follows the directions explicitly, thereby rising from mail-room clerk to Chairman of the Board of Directors in a week or so. The advice consists largely in buttering up key individuals and stabbing others in the back. Of course, the movie portrays a company pretty much in the same light as more serious portrayal with a bit of exaggeration. In more serious movies criticizing, either directly or indirectly, the corporate executives know little about what is going on in the marketplace or even in the business end, but here they know absolutely nothing. In this movie, the hero, Ponty, holds almost every executive position in the corporation, but there is never an indication that he knows the anything about the competition or even the product itself. In more serious movies, we see secretaries who spend a great deal of time primping and flirting, but here, that is all they do. In both serious movies, and in this spoof, the idea that the corporation should serve customers is not mentioned or considered. The purpose of a corporation is to serve the people in the corporation--at least, Hollywood sees it that way.

The movie is a musical with some wonderful songs by Frank Loesser, who also did "Guys and Dolls". My own favorites were "I Believe in You" and, my very favorite, "The Brotherhood of Man". In the Brotherhood of Man scene, the chairman of the board is deciding what to do, after a marketing scheme has resulted in a disaster for the company. With the companies entire executive board assembled in a conference room, he ponders, "The question is what to do, and who to do it to?" At that juncture when Ponty, and possibly everyone else is in real trouble they sing, "The Brotherhood of Man". The theme of the song is that we are all part of the great brotherhood of man and should be treated with kindness, love, and respect. It is interesting to me, that these men, everyone of whom is much better off, financially at least, than the overwhelming majority of the "brotherhood of man" and who is hoping to hang on to his high corporate position precisely so they do not have to enter into the ordinary "brotherhood", should suddenly be waxing so eloquent on the brotherhood of man. Actually, it is probably best that we remember the fact that we are in the brotherhood of man when things are going well and, therefore in a position to support, in some way, the more downtrodden of the brotherhood. When things are going rough for us, it is probably more helpful to remember the Fatherhood of God, i. e. that it is through Him that we "live and move and have our being."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


"Dave" is a very enjoyable movie with a happy ending that is probably more improbable than the numerous other improbabilites that are essential to the plot. Basically, it is the story of a young man named Dave who has two very valuable talents. First, he loves helping people and is delightfully friendly and outgoing. Second, he bears an uncanny resemblance to the President of the United States. As we meet Dave early in the movie, he uses both talents in the free market to earn a living. The first he uses to help people find work, i. e. he runs an employment agency. The second he uses to do business promotionals suggesting that the President recommends his client's products or services.

It is his second talent that drives the plot, which is similar to "On the Double", "That Night in Rio", "On the Riviera" etc where an "ordinary Joe" is enlisted to impersonate a prominent person on a short term basis. Since Kevin Kline, the star of Dave, lacks the comedic talents of Danny Kaye, the story is more straight-forward, along the lines of "I was Monty's Double". Dave is initially hired to substitute only very briefly for the real President so he can get away to a tryst with a paramour. But while making love to her, he has a stroke, so the President's Chief of Staff enlists the aid of the President's speech writer and the Secret Service men who originally hired Dave to make the switch more permanent until the President recovers. Actually, the Chief of Staff is hoping to somehow arrange it so that he will be made President, but, of course, only the speech writer knows that. The stroke apparently is so serious that there is little hope that the President will, in fact, recover enough to resume office.

The story is driven by the fact that the real President is a real jerk. He cares about no one except himself, but uses all of his staff to take the blame for his selfishness, i. e. somehow he gets the blame shifted to his staff for vetoing all those worthy programs that Hollywood loves to support, e. g. homeless shelters, aid to the needy, arts subsidies, etc. Of course, the Chief of Staff is an even bigger jerk. He wants to veto everything except aid and subsidies to himself. It turns out that the President's philandering and his hard-hearted attitude toward homeless shelters have driven a wedge between him and his wife, who wishes to have nothing to do with him, which is, of course, an important assist in the plan to substitute Dave.

Of course, the outcome is predictable. Dave and the First Lady fall in love when she figures out that he is not the real jerk she has come to know and hate all these years. She discovers this when, on a publicity visit to a homeless shelter, Dave shows an uncharacteristic (for the real President) interest in both the children at the shelter and her. Her suspicions are confirmed when she confronts Dave in his shower, conveniently located, like all showers in modern Hollywood movies, in the center of the living room, and discovers that he is missing some important moles and other tell-tale birthmarks. She clinches her suspicion by trapping him into telling about an experience that the real President never had. They spend a pleasant evening on the town together, but go back to the White House, where things are rapidly coming to a head.

The thing that has brought things to a head is that Dave, the quintessential nice guy, is tired of vetoing bills for the homeless and, in addition, he is determined to push through, entirely on his own, a full-employment jobs bill. This upsets the Chief of Staff, who, quite rightly it must be admitted, remembers that Dave is not the real President, and, although painfully aware that he also is not, feels strongly that he should be, and is, therefore, incensed when Dave fires him.

In the end, Dave gets his full-employment jobs bill, although, it is the Vice-president, having taken over as President, who pushes it through for him. We last see Dave running for City Council, the place, we are informed earlier in the movie, where the Vice-president got his start in politics. He is still running an employment service, which tells us that his full-employment bill, although passed, did not work.

I mention that the happy ending is probably the most improbable part of the whole movie, not so lmuch because it is improbable that a former First-Lady would marry the proprieter of an employment center, as the fact that, if Dave is successful in his political aspirations, she will in all likelihood wind up married to as big a jerk as before. I doubt very much that the President she initially married was a big jerk when she married him. He became a jerk for the reason so cogently made by Lord Acton, i.e. power corrupts. Dave is a wonderful man precisely because he has talents that he uses to serve other people. He sees the possibility of political office as greatly extending his ability to serve because it invests him with power, but power corrupts. As soon as he gets power, he will cease to be the Dave we know and love. He may not become exactly like the President he temporairly replaced, but he will have problems, because power corrupts.

One of the things that Hollywood, and even the American people find very difficult to believe, is that as soon as we begin using the power of law to force people to do what we would like them to do, or even what we feel they should do, it is personally corrupting.

Monday, September 15, 2008


"Sabrina is a movie originally adapted from a play, "Sabrina Fair" by Samuel Albert Taylor (The "Albert" is important because without it you might confuse him with Samuel Wooley Taylor and think that "Sabrina" is a movie like the latter's "The Absent Minded Professor, which it is not). Basically, it is the story of a young girl, Sabrina, who has fallen madly, hopelessly, in love with a rich, young playboy, David Larrabee. Because she is awkward, ungainly, and the Larrabee's chauffer's daughter, her love is, as stated above, hopeless, and her father sends her off to Paris to learn a trade. She comes back elegant, beautiful, and marvelessly self-confident, so that, not surprisingly, her fondest dream is realized when the object of her affection, David, falls madly in love with her. The trouble is that while she was in Paris, David has gotten himself engaged to another woman. That engagement is a necessary element in David's brother, Linus's, latest business venture. Linus fears that the breaking up of the engagement will destroy the chances of his being able to pull of his business deal, so he sets out to undermine the relationship between David and Sabrina by temporairily crippling his younger brother and using the resulting time to get Sabrina to fall in love with him, which Sabrina obligingly does. At the last minute, however, Linus realizes that this is rather an underhanded and shady thing to do so he obligingly gives Sabrina back to David. Depending on what you think of the characters and very dependent upon the portrayal, all turn's out in the end for the best, or, at least, what the screen writers intended us to think is the best. I have seen the play "Sabrina Fair" twice and in both instances I have felt that the ending was both believable and satisfying, something I cannot say for either of the movie versions.

In the original movie version the leads are played by Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart as Linus Larrabee, and William Holden as his younger brother, David. Of course, it is entirely believable that Humphrey Bogart's character, and almost anyone for that matter, would actually fall in love with Audrey Hepburn. What strains credulity to the breaking point is that Audrey Hepburn (Sabrina) would actually give up her infatuation with William Holden in favor of Bogart's Linus. I must admit that Hepburn really does make it almost convincing which is a testimony to her ability as the consummate actress. Part of the reason, however, that it works is that Linus is portrayed as a basically decent, competent, caring person who really does want the best for everyone. This is a role for which Bogart is clearly out of character--a far cry from his normal tough-as-nails, hardboiled, cynical, tyrant role. The casting makes little sense until you discover that the role of Linus was orginally intended for Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart was a last minute substitution. Cary Grant, of course, would have been perfect for the role and it is clear that the script was tailored with his normal character in mind.

The remake of the movie has Harrison Ford as Linus with I have no idea who as Sabrina and David. David actually does a fairly decent job, but the actress portraying Sabrina does not. Part, if not most of the problem, is Ford. He plays the role as undoubtedly the role would have been scripted had it been done for Humphrey Bogart. He is portrayed as Hollywood usually portrays businessmen, as being selfish, greedy, egotistical and thoroughly unlikeable to everyone except his mother. And even though, I felt, the portrayal of Sabrina was not all that sympathetic in this new version, I couldn't help but feel sorry for her. If she does, in fact, marry Linus as the ending sort of implies she might, I suspect that theirs will not be a match made in heaven or anywhere in proximity thereto, as Linus, as portrayed by Ford, is clearly incapable of loving anyone but himself with the possible exception of working up a tiny bit of affection for his mother and an equally tiny bit of admiration for his very efficient secretary.

The two versions of the movie show how very much the perception of business, or, at least, big business, is portrayed in Hollywood. In the Bogart version, Linus, is always expanding his business and merging with companies because he is convinced that he can run them better and thus increase the amount of employment for the common man. He takes companies with promising products, adds his own expertise and capital and enlarges them, thus increasing opportunities for both workers and consummers, making everyone better off. In the Harrison Ford version, on the other hand, Linus is portrayed as a hachetman. He gets rich by merging with a company that has a product that is developed and has manufacturing equipment in place and takes over the operation and fires most of the workers, thus reaping in all the profits from the sale of the new item for himself. I wonder why Harrison Ford did not use all the expertise acquired in the making of Sabrina to fire all the people listed at the end credits of his movie, and all subsequent movies. He could thereby make himself a great deal more money and save us all the trouble of having to sit through those end credits. Movies never used to have end credits. If they did it was merely a relisting of the cast telling you exactly who played what person. Are all those additional people necessary because of a rule by the labor union, or the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals? The very idea that a businessman could get rich by firing all kinds of workers has credibility only because so many of our large corporations, due to subsidies, import restrictions and tariffs, and other government rules and regulations, have come to be nearly as inefficient as the government. I think it was the economist, John Kenneth Galbraith who once complained that he was convinced that many big corporations were as inefficient as the government. He actually phrased his complaint as a rhetorical question, but the answer is that there are none, unless there is government involved. The reason is that no one voluntarily pays some one else for doing nothing. Unless the companies that Linus was always merging with, had lots of "fat" due to government subsidies and other government actions, every person he fired would result in less output, and hence, ultimately, less profit.

The fact of the matter is that in a free society we do not voluntarily do business with the kind of people that Linus Larrabee is portrayed as being in the Harrison Ford movie. In such a society he would either need a lot of government force to stay in business or he would be best advised to take all his money, while he still has any, and put it in government securities.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Movies--2--Holiday for Love

Holiday for Love is a made-for-TV Hallmark movie. Like many of its companions, it is a delightful love story centered around a holiday theme. The title itself bears little relation to the content of the movie. I think in this type of movie the goal is to get the words "holiday", Christmas, Season, and something related to romance or love in the title. I am reviewing it because I think it tells us a great deal about how our popular culture views business and corporations--a theme I will explore further when I look at the various incarnations of "Sabrina".

The movie stars Tim Matheson, Melissa Gilbert, and country-western singer, Travis Tritt, who sings a delightful country-western Christmas song at the opening of the film. The story centers around a large tractor corporation, "Bean's Tractor", that is having a tough time and is being forced to down-size in order to remain profitable. The company has several plants throughout the midwest and company executives are being sent to each plant to determine who in the plant should be let go or even if the entire plant should be closed. For some reason, the top executives feel that it is necessary that this whole operation should be kept top secret, so the executives are sent to the various plants with the story that they are actually making large purchases from the plant. Why such a thing would be necessary for a company to find out what is going on in its own plants is never, of course, explained, but it is an essential part of the plot. The fact that the top executives of the company would be completely in the dark about what goes on at their plants, and that the people working in the plants should be completely unacquainted with the top company executives, leaves us to wonder how the company has managed to survive at all, but that is not really addressed.

The CEO of the company is a sympathetic character who is clearly distressed about having to lay people off. He makes it clear that the actual layoffs will not occur until after the Christmas holiday. I will contrast him with Harrison Ford, the CEO depicted in the latest version of Sabrina. The hero, Tim Matheson, who is the CEO heir apparent, is sent to a small town named Athens, coincidentally, the town in which he grew up, but left in late childhood. No one knows him, but he remembers some of the people and is shown early in the movie exploring his old (now abandoned) home.

Since he represents himself as a potential customer with a large order of tractors, he is treated as the town hero. Everyone goes out of his/her way to be kind and he is offered goods and services gratuitously. In the meantime, he manages to fall in love with the heroine, Melissa Gilbert, who, like almost everyone else in town works at Bean's Tractor. She points out that her father (he is general manager of the plant), her brothers, and even more distant relatives work at Bean's. Through a series of interactions, she finds herself falling in love with Tim although she has been engaged to Travis Tritt for a long time and the engagement is going nowhere. As the movie moves along, we meet several other of the townsfolk, almost all of whom work for Bean's Tractor, even though many, if not most also have other jobs.

At some point the general manager, the heroine's father, realizes that our hero is not on the up-and-up and is actually there to downsize or even close the factory. At that point the attitude of everyone in the town changes dramatically, and Tim finds that he, not only gets the cold shoulder from everyone, including Melissa, but he can hardly even get any service or goods as people show a reluctance to have anything to do with him even in business transactions.

He returns to company headquarters and makes his report along with the recommendation that the plant at Athens be allowed to stay open without any layoffs and be used to make a new line of Bean Tractors that would be affordable for the small farmer such as Melissa.

He returns just in time for the company Christmas party. When the general manager sees him, just before saying grace at the Christmas party, he says a prayer that is spiteful and mean-spirited. In the speech that follows, Tim announces that no one will be laid off, at which point he again becomes the local hero. In that speech he calls the people of Athens good and hard-working. I would characterize them as neither. They have come to see Bean's Tractor as a source of guaranteed income, in exactly the same way as many, if not most government employees view their jobs. They put in their time at Bean's in order to pursue hobbies or alternate careers. Melissa, for example, uses her resources at Bean's to run what amounts to an animal shelter. The man who operates the local inn, works at Bean's until he can make a go of the inn. One suspects that even the general manager is at least as interested in using his position to provide employment for his family and friends as he is in the welfare of Bean's.

What bothers me in all this, is that this is clearly the attitude of the people who made the movie. Corporations are there more to serve their employees than there customers. The corporate executives that lay off employees are merely greedy no-goods. The executives in this movie are portrayed as people who have absolutely no knowledge of what goes on in the local plants, and very little knowledge of what the company is doing. It has never occured, apparently, to any of them to make tractors affordable to the small farmer. They are portrayed as men and women who get their MBA's and then just sit around collecting huge salaries at the expense of "the little guy out in the field". When times get tough, none of them suffer, they just lay off the workers. This is an attitude I will explore more when I look at the movie "Sabrina".

What is never made clear, is that a company has very limited resources. True, the CEO is portrayed as being hard-pressed and being forced to make the lay-offs, but it is never made clear that be saving all the jobs in Athens, the company will be forced to be harder on plants in other towns. It is this failure to recognize that corporations can only succeed by serving the needs and wants of consumers, that makes Hollywood productions so obviously anti-business.

The ending, of course, is predictable, but it is delightful getting there. What is important for my essay is the attitude the people have toward Bean's and the implied attitude of those who made the movie.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Movies--1--While You Were Sleeping

I have decided that this month I will make comments on several favorite movies starting with "While you were sleeping" starring Sandra Bullock and Bill Pulman.

My brother recommended this movie and it has become something of a favorite. Like most modern Hollywood movies it suffers from bad language, but it is a delightful movie otherwise. The basic story is that a young woman has imagined herself in love with a handsome young man who rides the subway every morning. Since she is the ticket seller, she sees him and fantacizes a relationship with him, although, they have not, in fact even exchanged a greeting. On Christmas day, however, the young man is attacked by muggers and thrown onto the track. The fall leaves him unconscious in the middle of the track. Sandra Bullock, the tickettaker, sees his plight and is able to move him off the track shortly before the train passes, thus, saving his life. Later in the hospital, she sees him lying in his bed and speaks her fantasy outloud. A passing nurse, assuming that the expression is factual, assumes that she is engaged to the man and announces it to the hospital staff, who, in turn tell it to the man's family when they arrive. The family include Glynis Johns and Jack Warden--who have always been fun in the movies I have seen them in.

The family takes Sandra Bullock in (assuming that she will be part of the family as soon as the son comes out of the comma that his experience has left him in). They make an extra effort, because apparently, the relationship with the son before his mugging had been increasingly distant. He had left the family business to become a lawyer, and had been successful at it and rather pusued his own life making contact with the family only very occasisionally. Sandra Bullock is strongly drawn to the family and begins visiting them frequently. She is especially strongly drawn to the oldest son, who, although initially very skeptical of the fact that Bullock is actually engaged to his brother, becomes a believer, and increasingly ardent admirer of her. The end, of course, is predictable, but the fun is in getting there.

One thing I particularly liked about this movie is that the lawyer did not come out on top. Movies, it seems to me have a special affinity for lawyers, mostly, I believe, because the writers have not the imagination, or experience, to believe that anyone else (with the possible exception of doctors) can start from scratch and be successful. In the movies, if you need someone to start from rather ordinary or especially if they must start from straightened circumstances, and yet make good in a rather brief period of time (brief enough to still be young enough to be marriageable material), the movies almost always chose to make the hero or heroine a lawyer. In this case, the hero is working in a somewhat-but-not-spectacularly-successful middle class business, and, inspired by the heroine (who is a lower middle class ticket taker) plans to launch out on his own in what we can assume will be a most risky venture. The business he is leaving is itself intriguing because it can best be described as filling a niche in a very competitive market--furniture (the family buys furniture from estates--mostly from families who do not want to keep the furniture of recently deceased relatives). At the end of the movie, we rejoice that after so many mix-ups and humorous, but embarrasing experiences, the two lovers have found themselves, but, I for one, rejoice in the fact that they will most likely have a period, and likely an extended period of financial struggle. The movie makes it clear that the financial success of the lawyer brother has not only led him away from his family, but led him into a lifestyle very foreign from his religious roots. He tells us when he comes out of his coma, that the near death experience have made him a new man, but somehow, I suspect, that when he finds himself again surrounded with all the trappings of wealth--an mostly unproductive wealth--that he will find himself rather soon back where he was. Although, the corruption due to unproductive wealth is certainly common in society, it is not often depicted in movies.

For its humor and the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, lessons about life and living, I give it an alpha.

Friday, August 29, 2008


I conclude this month's topic of controversies with a discussion of the third Franklin's formula--Health, Wealth and Wisdom. The controversy about wisdom, or at least, learning, where the controversy usually settles, is the same as the others, i.e. the belief that it can be acquired through exchange, generally with a third party footing the bill. This leads to any number of problems, but today I will focus on one--lack of value, created, in my opinion, by lack of values.

It is often bemoaned that a high school education is of little value, and the value of a college education is constantly decreasing. More and more, it is expected that a person get an advanced degree before they can be really useful. The real problem, I believe, that in our public schools, students are simply not taught values and hence, their education is of little value. I begin with a simple example, tying us back to where we began--health.

In a typical public school curriculum, students receive some sort of health education almost every year through high school, and are usually required to take at least one class of health instruction as part of their general education requirements in college. The lack of value in this instruction is clearly evident in the low grade of health, not only of the students, but of the teachers themselves. Of all the health values that could and should be taught, the most important is good posture. Good posture may not be the most important of all possible health values, although, it ranks amongst the most important in a good number of alternative health systems, but it is the one value that can be taught and inculcated in the students in the classroom. A teacher can give ever so many wonderful lectures on the importance of good diet or adequate sleep, but he has little control over whether the student practices what he has been taught. But for one hour a day, he has very good control over whether his students practice good posture. Having substitued in several health classes at the high and junior high level, I can say that very few of the students have been taught in any meaningful way about good posture. Some have not even had the subject mentioned. But when I tell them that for the day, at least, that I am teaching, good posture is an absolute requirement of the class, they stare at me as if I had two heads. They don't mind being given a lecture and even a test on the value of good posture, but that it should be required of them is absolutely unheard of.

In math this has been an experience that is even more pronounced. When I require that the students have some facility with numbers they, and often when they complain about it to their parents, their parents complain vociferously. In one school they complained so loudly that the principal promised to replace me as quickly as possible. "They are here to learn algebra," the parents said. "Why should they have to worry about arithmetic. They can do that with calculators." The result, of course, is that many master calculus, and some even ordinary differential equations, in high school, but are unable perform the simple math tasks required of daily living.

I am reminded of an editorial by Lester Thurow many years ago on the Nightly Business Report. Professor Thurow--at the time an economics professor--was stating the absolute requirement for government charity, since the average American--and particulary, the average college graduate, is too deeply in debt to be charitable. As proof he offered his own experience. He was required to review the applications of students wishing to become economics graduate students at his university and he said that the average student was over 10,000 dollars in debt. (Since this was several years ago, this is the equivalent of 5 or 6 times that amount today). What he would, of course, never acknowledge, was that this was less an indication of the need for more government charity, and more an indication of the failure on the part of his colleagues to teach values adequately, or even at all. Here were students hoping to be able to manage the economies of banks, businesses, communities, states and even nations, who clearly could not manage their own. Professor Thurow would probably have been surprised and even insulted at the idea that he and his colleagues should be held responsible to provide such training.

All of this, of course, results in, as lack of understanding of value always does, in waste and the waste in schools is enormous. Not only in the waste of time, but in resources.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


"The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof". I conclude by noting that our success, like Newton's, is dependent upon the recognition that God is a govenor who cares for those over whom He has governance. When we look to another govenor, we are always looking to the use of force. The use of force in the pursuit of wealth is like the use of dirt to oil a machine, the difference being that we almost always recognize that dirt is not particulary good for the machine, whereas the use of force almost always seems to work wonders.

I remember a pamphlet in a library of a collector. He specialized in collecting journals, family and personal histories, and local and community histories. I became intrigued by the writing of a man whose name I have forgotten. He wrote his life's story, obviously, only for his family. It was crudely printed, unedited, and bound in cheap heavy paper. But the story it told was intriguing. The man related one miracle after another that had occured to him in his life. On numerous occasions he had exercised faith to heal others and to be healed. On other occasions his financial situation had been desparate but he had exercised faith and received inspiration to remedy the problem. As the depression deepened he called repeatedly on God to help him escape poverty and privation, and was successful in truly miraculous ways. But the last "miracle" he recounts is the fact that although there was some question of his being eligible, the government bureaucrat who had the final say, granted him his request to begin receiving Social Security benefits. That was the last miracle the man recorded in his life story. I suspect that he felt that having the power of the law now to support and sustain him, and now that he could afford conventional medical care, he had no further need of God's assistance. He had turned his life over to another govenor.

Lavarr Webb co-authors a weekly column for the Deseret News. Earlier, Mr. Webb was its managing editor. Upon leaving that post, he wrote an article detailing the absolute horror and agony of that free market position. He quit it to become, what he is now--a lobbyist. His column is an ongoing debate. He defends the Republican party position. His co-author, Frank Piganelli defends the Democratic party position. In his column, Mr. Webb is always criticizing the "far right wing" Republicans--those who attempt to get government out of all activities that are legitimately part of the free market (education, health care, job training, etc). One suspects from his parting article that Mr. Webb himself would do almost anything to avoid having to return to a total free market livelihood. Mr. Webb claims faith, but like the man of the pamphlet mentioned above, his first and most reliable assurance is on the force of law. His co-author, Mr. Piganelli, is like most liberals, an avowed skeptic, with little use for anything but the force of law. One hopes, of course, that in the course of his life, he may have had a brush with the free market--possibly a paper route, or a stint a grocery bag boy, or a janitor position in college, but I doubt that if you were to look at his resume you would find any indication of any first hand experience in the free market. The number in our society like Mr. Piganelli is growing. There are now more lawyers in my county than any other profession that we could associate, even remotely with the free market. Hence, our fear and dislike of the necessity of earning a living "economically" grows yearly, as does, of course, the burden of government and other unproductive and marginally productive activities in our society.

And the reason is not hard to find. Even those who profess faith in God in other aspects of their lives, have almost no faith in God as a govenor, particulary, as God as a govenor who makes provision for our daily needs. I was always amazed, for example, when I was working with school teachers, most of whom professed some degree of faith, how many would become indignant, often angry or even belligerent, if you suggested some reform that would move the public schools more into the free market. Without a measure of force, they feel that life would be hard. I suspect that most of us feel that if we depend on the free market we will wind up like Daniel and his friends living on "pulse", whereas if we rely on the force of law we can sit with Belshazzar at the feast. To many of us would, like the children of Israel in the desert, rather have the left overs of Egyptian masters than a daily ration of manna--even if it means putting up not only with slavery, but the "diseases of the Egyptians". The result of all this is that many if not most of our people hope to live by force of law--an endeavor that is not very productive of wealth.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


That politicians, political activists such as unions and professional societies, lobbyists, and others who wish to live "politically" should be willing and even eager to burden jobs comes as no surprise. Their source of wealth depends upon ordinary working people transferring a part of the wealth they have earned "economically" to those who wish to live "politically". The question is why is it those ordinary people so willing to allow jobs to become so heavily burdened. We have already discussed one reason in our exploration of the "health-care" problem. Today we look at two other reasons, the first is closely related to health care. Earlier, we considered the reason due to fear of a serious long-term illness. Now we consider the effects of a sort of low level lack of health.

The problems stem from the idea that "jobs" imply work. Many, if not most Americans, recognize that they are simply incapable of the sustained effort required to earn a living in a totally free market environment. They, therefore, look for some kind of guarantee. One such guarantee is making it difficult to lay a person off. Another, of course, is job-loss insurance. To understand why they are incapable of a sustained effort I am going to cite a popular weight loss book. The book is "Fit-or-Fat by Covert Bailey. In his book Mr. Bailey tells that he worked on the ski-patrol as a young man. One of the requirements was to carry a 10 lb. pack with various items that would be helpful if he found someone in trouble. He skied around and was very active all day without the additional weight bothering or hindering him in any way. He found, however, that when he gained ten pounds, that he tired much sooner even if he did not have to carry the pack. In other words, being ten pounds overweight was much more enervating than carrying an equal amount of extra weight when he was at his correct weight. Many Americans acknowledge that they are overweight, but it is unimportant because their work requires mental effort rather than physical. The problem with this sort of thinking is that mental effort is probably hindered as much, if not more, by poor health. The Greek motto--a sound mind requires a sound body--almost certainly applies.

As problematic, probably more, than the fact that many Americans are incapable of providing for themselves in a truly free market arena, is the problem that many do not know what hard work is. Almost everyone thinks of themselves as being a "hard worker". But it is important to recognize that some "hard work" is simply not worth doing and some is counter productive. Harry Reid, in describing the people in his hometown, said of them that "they never shunned hard work". This is a better way to think of the value of effort. In the Sherlock Holmes story "the Redheaded League" the crooks can certainly boast that they worked very hard, mentally and physically. They devised a scheme so complex and confusing that only the Greatest Brain in detective story history is able to unravel it. They also dug a tunnel underground a considerable distance to break into the Bank of England, requiring an admirable amount of physical effort. But what they were really doing was shunning the really hard work--the effort, both mental and physical, required to provide for themselves in a free market, i. e. the effort to live "economically". It is the attempt to avoid of this effort that gives the burdening of jobs one of its greatest appeals.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Why is it so hard to find a job in almost every country in the world? One answer, of course, is that there are simply too many people chasing too few jobs. But as we saw in the introduction to this section, there was a time in America when the problem was that there were to few people with too many jobs. One thing is certain and that is that there is never a shortage of things to be done.

If you were to go to a typical third world country, say, in Africa. The thing that strikes you is the sheer number of things that need to be done. People are living in squalor. Most of them, from young to old, are sick much of the time, some with very serious diseases. They live in huts made of anything they have at hand. In the midst of a steaming jungle, they have no potable drinking water. They are always hungry and starvation is common. And yet, when you inquire about jobs, you discover that 60, maybe even 80% of their people are unemployed. Furthermore, they seem to lack any sort of initiative and even energy to do very much. They are largely dependent on outsiders. Charities provide them with food, dig the wells for their water, provide whatever medical care they receive, and give them what few educational materials they might have. Foreign governments, usually the US build the power plants they have to provide a modicum of modernity. The people seem curiously passive. They are interested in religion, but their religion seems unable to motivate them to save themselves even in this life, much less the next. They seem unable to do anything for themselves.

Of course, it is not quite so bad in the US, but it certainly seems headed in that direction. This is particularly true when you reflect that earlier in the history of our country, except in times of recession or "panic" jobs were readily available. Katherine Hepburn, in an interview describing her career, says of the time when she was young, "Getting a job was easy, anybody could get a job. Keeping it was what was hard." The journalist/economist, Henry Hazlitt, says almost the same thing in his story about how he became a newspaper man. He had started college, but the dealth of his father had made it necessary to find work to help support the family. He said he could always find a job. Men were eager to hire anyone they could find, but, he quickly discovered that he had a harder time actually doing the job than he had guessed so he lost one job after another until he finally found one working for a newspaper. He began, of course, doing menial work, and soon progressed to become a top notch reporter--a job, with the exception of a brief stint as an editor, that he held the rest of his very productive life.

The point here is that something has obviously changed. Today, the difficulty lies in finding a job. But once you have found it, your employer has a hard time firing you. The problem, of course, in our society, indeed, in almost every society of the modern world, is that we have burdened jobs to the point that it is a wonder that finding a job in any country is not as difficult as it is in that African nation. An employer who hires someone is getting a horrible burden. He is responsible for his health care. He has to provide for vacation and holiday pay. He has to pay taxes to take care of the employee for a period of time if he finds he has to lay him off. At one of my places of work they posted the notice of requirements for the environment. They had to provide restrooms, of course, but there were numerous other things. The two that I remember was that the floors had to be "tight", whatever that means, and the required drinking fountains had to have an arc of at least two inches.

The addition of every burden on a job, of course, reduces the number of available jobs. But, more seriously, it makes those in the society more passive, more dependent. The motivation for promising others that they will be "taken care of" is that those who make those promises will themselves be "taken care of" in addition to adding to their power and control. They live at the expense of others. It is this conviction, the conviction that it is alright to live at the expense of others that we will explore in future discussions.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Very few men have sufficient wealth that they can live off interest, i.e. they must work for a living. Finding work, or "a job" is, therefore, critical to most men's well being, hence, the controversy over employment and unemployment. If men cannot find jobs, in our society, at least, they turn to government. In some cases to provide direct assistance, in most cases, since that continues to have a negative connotation, albeit increasingly less so, to provide jobs.

The fallacy that government can provide jobs stems from the same basic fallacy that underlies government provision of health care, i. e. that something can be bought or obtained by exchange, which, in fact, cannot be bought. Government jobs fall readily into three categories, (1) legitimate government funtions such as police, (2) make-work schemes and (3) assumption of the government of functions belonging to the free market. In the first case, the number of jobs is typically very much limited. In the second, the both the number of jobs and the duration of the program providing them is limited by the fact that people become increasingly resistant to the obvious waste involved. Therefore, the largest effort comes in transferring free market functions to the government. We usually speak of this as being inefficient, which, of course, it is, for the simple reason that those involved in such programs would have to be angels to avoid using the force of law to expand both their salaries and their scope of power beyond what the free market would allow.

Friday, August 15, 2008


Although there is much more I could say about health, I have decided to move on to the second part of the formula and for the next few entries discuss the questions surrounding wealth.

In the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith divides nations into three categories, wealthy, medium, and poor. As examples of each he uses China, England, and "the Colonies" or what is soon to me the US, respectively. But it is clear from his discussion that he is really discussing opportunity as well as wealth. They seemed to him to be inversely related. China, I suspect, he listed as being wealthy, or at least as wealthy as its traditions, government, laws, etc, would allow it to become, because of the huge government supperstructure. The impressive "Forbidden City", the vast network of government bureaucrats, the ornate buildings and colorful costumes of the wealthy. But the inverse was the lack of opportunity. Unwanted or unprovided children were simply killed. The rate of infanticide among the poor was high. Indeed, if a man died leaving a widow and orphans, if no provision could be made for them by extended family they were all simply "eliminated". In England, while not quite so impressive in government and bureaucracy, the opportunity was not quite so dismal. There if a man died leaving widow and orphan they were placed in a poor house or on some kind of minimum subsistance dole, so at least, they were not eliminated. But most interesting was the US. The colonies, as he knew them (the US declared independence a few months after his book was published), were poor. They had no impressive buildings of any kind, certainly no large cathederals or impressive palaces or government buildings. The streets and other "public works" were primitive. But what America did have was opportunity. There, according to Smith, if a man died leaving a widow and orphans, she almost immediately had offers for remarriage, even if she were poor, but men wanted to raise the children. Children, indeed, people in general were viewed as the most important wealth. They were for our founding fathers, long before Julian Simons invented the term, the"ultimate resource".

Historians and economists in our day, most of whom are really bureaucrats themselves, at least, in the sense that their incomes are indirectly, or increasingly, directly dependent upon some level of government, attribute this opportunity to ready availability of land. The people themselves who lived at the time attributed it, more correctly, in my opinion, to the reduction in tyranny, reduced when compared to Europe. They were very sensitive to the fact that it was always rearing its ugly head.

To be subject to tyranny of any kind is very discouraging enervating. It is probably the chief reason that poverty is so widespread in the world and throughout human history. The question then becomes why is it tolerated? To understand that I am going to refer to one of my favorite plays, "The Barretts of Wimpole Street". The play is the story of Robert and Elizabeth Browning's courtship. Elizabeth Barrett was the daughter of a wealthy man who had a very large family. He had 12 children, 9 of whom survived into adulthood. Mr. Barrett was a very strong-and self-willed man who decided, probably after reading Malthus's book on population or similar nonsense, that none of his children should marry. In the play, of course, Elizabeth defies her father and marries Robert Browning, and one other daughter does likewise. Eventually, another of his children follows suit. Mr. Browning would have nothing to do with the three who married. He not only disinherited them, but he even refused to open any correspondence from or about them. Why would six adults put up with that kind of tyranny? The answer, of course, is in his wealth. They were afraid to loose material comforts and status in society if they went against "Papa's" wishes. In addition, he would be become angry and vengeful if anyone went counter to his will.

Of course, Mr. Barrett is an example of a family tyrant. The bureaucratic tyrant, however, uses exactly the same carrot-and-stick tactic. And unlike Mr. Barrett, whose motives are not precisely known, at least, to the sources I have read, the bureaucrat, the politician exercise tyranny for a combination of wealth and power. The result is, of course, general loss of wealth, in the fullest sense of the word. But some wealth and usually a great deal of power is transferred to those exercising the tyranny.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


In this continuing health controversy series I am going to look at two lifestyle related controversies. The first is the question of abortion. My own feeling is that the abortion controversy is essentially irresolvable until our lifestyle is corrected. It remains a controversy and will continue to do so, in my opinion, until either our lifestyle is corrected or until our society becomes an economically driven, as opposed to a politically driven society. Let us look at various aspects of the controversy.

There is almost no point in arguing about abortion from a religious standpoint, although, it is precisely that standpoint that is the chief objection that the most ardent opponents have. The problem, of course, is that our religions are all very different. Our religion can best be described as our feeling about our relationship with God. I think it was Abraham Lincoln who pointed out that most people's relationship with God is very tenuous, which, in turn, makes the relationship we have with our fellowman very undependable, if it is built exclusively on the nominal committment we have toward God. Furthermore, we have long since learned that our nominal religious committments are not indictative of our real religious convictions. Even devout Catholics do not always bring their convictions into harmony with those of the Pope, even on so important an issue as abortion. Therefore, the argument simply degenerates into which is better, your religion or mine. This may be a fun argument but never very productive. It reminds me of an experience my roommate had on his mission. Some boys were taunting him and throwing rocks at him because he was a Mormon missionary, and therefore, they claimed, no Christian. "I grabbed those kids and whipped them until they pleaded for mercy, thus proving that I was the better Christian."

The most common grounds on which we conduct the debate is moral. This is also, in my opinion, pointless. Since murder is for most Americans a represhensible crime, opponents attempt to prove that an unborn child is, in fact, a little child. Those who favor abortion, on the other hand, simply point to the fact that small fetises look like, and, they claim, are very much like little fish or other animals.

The political debate boils down to the question of jurisdiction. There is no question that if the Federal government let the question alone, that there would be some places where abortion would be allowed, more where it would not be. But the question of jurisdiction is one that affects dozens, probably hundreds of issues, debating it with something so controversial as abortion, about which people feel so deeply on other fronts, makes the debate almost certainly irresolvable.

The only hope for resolution of the debate, if there is any hope at all, is on the question of lifestyle. Currently, of course, that is a way unsatisfactory to both sides, because many on both sides of the debate cling tenaciously to what I call the "abortion lifestyle". Our current lifestyle is the cause of much abortion simply because it pushes the age of maturity down to the point where sexual immorality is almost certain to occur at a very young age, especially among young girls growing up in disfunctional families, but it is a constant temptation even among those who are raised under the best of circumstances. I remember the sorrow I would contemplate when I used to do substitute teaching in 7th grade math classes as I looked at the number of girls at that age who were fully formed and obviously--all too obviously--fully sexually mature. For such a girl the idea that she must wait until she has graduated from college before she can marry and enter into "legitimate" sexual relations means waiting for a period of time longer than she can remember--in other words, more than a lifetime, as she perceives it. We tend to forget that before the Roosevelt food plan and other government programs so drastically altered our lifestyle, that the average age of sexual maturity for girls was 17. Now it is not unusual for girls in grade school to be fully mature sexually. There is obviously an enormous difference between a girl being told to "wait until marriage" if the time of expectation is just a small fraction of her experience and one being so told when she cannot reasonably expect to marry for a time longer than she can remember.

Even among the older women who choose abortion, the real reason for most is not what we normally think. We think of those as the feminist woman who carries placards stating that "her body is her own" and appears on television talk shows loudly proclaiming that she should be able to abort a baby if it is of the wrong sex, or if it will interfer with her career, or even her planned vacation. The more common reason is that there is a problem with the pregnancy, again, more often than not a result of various health factors tied to our lifestyle.

Again we come back to the fact that so many of our controversies have been the result of politicians and political leaders misleading us in various ways, but mostly by telling us directly and indirectly that we are, because we live in a rich country, entitled to live as irresponsibly as the rich have traditionally lived.