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.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Controversies--7--Darwinian Evolution--IV

I consider Darwinian evolution the Achilles Heel of the libertarian movement. The political problem with many, if not most, libertarians, is their undiscriminating view of any restriction on what they see as their "freedoms" or "rights". By undiscriminating, I mean that they make no distinction between an abridgement of their "freedoms" by a local or state government and by the Federal government. They get as exorcised about a city council passing a restriction on the sale of fast food as they do about Federal wiretapping infringements. This has always bothered me about them and I have often asked myself, why can't they see that our government system was never intended to provide some sort of absolute freedom, but to provide checks on Federal government power.

The problem came to me forcefully in an experience I consider almost providential. I came home one night, picked up the paper from the porch and the mail from the mail box. The mail included a copy of "The Freeman", the journal of the Foundation for Economic Education. Glancing through both, I noticed that both contained an article by the libertarian economist, Walter Williams. As is my custom, I read the paper immediately and saved the journal for reading later in the evening. The article by Williams in the paper contained the best explanation of the problems with Nazi Germany that I have read anywhere in so short an exposition. Of course, von Mises's "Omnipotent Government" is better, but that is a book of 200-300 pages. I have always been interested in Nazi Germany because my father was involved in the war crimes trials and I grew up there and returned for my mission, where I talked with hundreds of Germans about their feelings about Hitler and the Third Reich. Williams explained that much of the problem stemmed from the Germans' willingness, even eagerness, to pass responsibility that rightly belonged to individuals, families, and local governments onto the Federal government. Later that evening I read Prof. Williams' article in the Freeman. It was almost a controdiction of his earlier article, if not directly, certainly in spirit. He castigated various city councils and county commissions for passing laws and ordinances with which he did not agree and called them "Lifestyle Nazis". From the earlier article it was perfectly clear that he knows that "Nazi" means "National Socialist" and whatever you may think of a person who passes a zoning law or a smoking restriction in a cafe, you certainly cannot accuse them of being either "National" or "Socialist" without greatly distorting the term. As I read his articles I asked, why are they that way?

It became clearer to me in another of Prof. Williams articles, when again he was denouncing a city commission for passing a smoking restriction of some kind. This time he exclaimed, "They are trying to take away my right to be unhealthy." I decided that the political problem with libertarinism is that they wage an idealogical battle for freedom on all fronts and ignore the real major problem. Rather like an army being attacked by tanks and missiles spending as much time looking for hornet's nests to eliminate. I am convinced that if the Libertarian Party is ever going to make an impact in America, that the one right they will have to give up is "their right to be unhealthy", but as a practical matter, (with the exception of some very outstanding libertarians like Ron Paul) that is the one right that they demand before all others. And I have to ask, why? And the answer is, of course, that they have some very bad habits which they are determined to defend before anything else.

Which brings me to Darwinian evolution. Why, in modern America, would anyone defend the use of even the mildest drugs, much less the more powerful recreational drugs such as cocaine and heroin? The answer is that they are powerfully stimulating and people enjoy using them. My own feeling, however, is that, for most people at least, they would loose their appeal if those people knew that they were self-destructive. They don't know that because they have been convinced by Darwinian thought that life at every level is reducible to chemistry and physics and therefore, no matter how irresponsible a person's lifestyle, i.e. no matter how much his lifestyle and habits may degrade his life, it can be restored, and maybe even enhanced, by the physical and chemical means.

We often hear that the polical spectrum forms a circle as opposed to a line, with the far right--the libertarians, meeting with the far left--the ultra-liberals, joining. On this issue this is largely true. They both have almost unbounded confidence in the ability of modern medicine to overcome any lifestyle problem with the application of physics and/or chemistry. What they disagree on, of course, at least nominally, is who should pay for that application. There is, however, I believe, a bit of residual and even rather deep-seated suspicion in the majority of our people, that "the right to be unhealthy" is not worth fighting for and even worth voting for.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Controversies--6--Darwinian Evolution--III

Scientific theories are known to most men almost exclusively through their applications to their lives. In the case of Darwinian evolution, the most important application has been to the practice of medicine and health care. A little thought will make it clear that there are at least three ideas stemming from Darwin's thought which have been devastating to the practice of medicine and health-care in general.

The first is the idea that man's body is a work in progress. This has resulted in the idea that certain of men's organs and body parts have become more or less superfluous through the process of evolution. Hence, it was the custom for many years to simply remove the tonsils upon the slightest provocation, or even on no provocation whatsoever. Because it has been found that the tonsils do indeed serve a purpose, there is an increasing reluctance to simply remove them when a child gets a sore throat. When I was young, the tonsils were routinely removed. I, and all my siblings, had our tonsils removed. Of my own children, only the eldest has lost his tonsils. Nevertheless, the tonsils, the appendix, the gall bladder, and probably other body organs are seen as removeable without serious side effect, because we have sort of evolved beyond their usefulness. Indeed, our whole attitude toward body organs has been deeply influenced by this thought. The emphasis in modern medicine is hardly what can we do to spare an organ, but can it be removed or replaced. In many ways this has grown almost frightful. Can anyone really believe that it will soon be that people who are rich or important have a right to the organs of those who are poor or unproductive or in some other way superfluous?

The second is the idea that what goes on inside the body mirrors what goes on outside the body. If Darwinian evolution were a company instead of a theory, its motto would be "progress through violence". Just as life in society is viewed in the Darwinian world view as "survival of the fittest" in a "dog-eat-dog" world. So what goes on inside the body is viewed as a constant struggle between body parts that, for the most part, are kept in control when you are young or if you have very good genes, but as you age, or if you are genetically unlucky, parts of your body begin to overcome other parts. Your white corpuscles eat up your red corpuscles or vice versa. The sodium begins to overpower the potassium, the body cells in one part of the body become renegades and begin overpowering everything, one organ begins doing the work of another, and so on. And, of course, there is the ever on-going relentless struggle against germs of all kinds. This kind of thinking has so predominated our thinking about medicine and health that we almost worship youth and youthfulness. It seems impossible for us to believe that there are actually societies that revere age, not only for its wisdom and experience, but because, until extreme old age, the elderlly are the most productive and healthiest members of society.

The third is the idea that live at every level is reducible to physics and chemistry. This has led to the belief that life can be restored and even enhanced through physical and chemical means. Of the three ideas, this is the most destructive. It, more than any other idea, has led us to believe that we can live irresponsibly, and that with a pill, or an operation, be restored to "my old self".

The tragedy of this thinking is that we spend more time and money in escaping the consequences of poor choices than in correcting a poor lifestyle. Medicine has become an endless quest for new cures rather than a study of what we must do to live healthfully.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Controversies--5--Darwinian Evolution--II

Although we tend to think of Darwin's theory of evolution as a scientific theory, we deal with it in popular discourse much more like a political theory or idea. The very fact that Darwin's theory is still a subject of debate after all these years is a clear indication that it has a very large political component. Compare Darwin's theory with other scientific theories or ideas that are important economically and even politically. For example, there is hardly any scientific concept more important to our way of life and our economy than the thermodynamic cycles that explain the operation of our large engines, particularly the Otto cycle that explains the operation of the internal combustion engine.

Suppose you go into an automobile dealership and the salesman approaches you and asks if he can help you. You respond that you are interested in buying a new car. The salesman in turn responds that he has many fine automobiles that he would be glad to show you, but before he does, so that he doesn't waste his time or yours, he requires you to sign a statement saying that you believe in the Otto cycle. The most likely response to such a request of 99.99% of the American public would be, "Otto cycle? What the blazes is this Otto cycle that I am supposed to believe in?" Fairly recently I have read two commentaries by prominent political pundits, George F. Will and Thomas Friedman, bemoaning American ignorance of Darwin's theory of evolution and yet Darwin is no where near as important in our day to day lives and our economic well being as the Otto cycle. Why don't they bemoan American ignorance of that? The fact is that compared with their knowledge of the Otto cycle, American high school students are positive whiz kids on their knowledge of Darwin.

We really don't even speak about "belief" in respect to scientific ideas. I doubt that there is even an engineer who has applied to work at an automobile company or teach at a university who is asked if he believes in the Otto cycle. Can you imagine an electrician showing up at your doorstep saying he would fix your house wiring only after you sign a statement assuring him that you believe in Maxwell's equations?

Obviously, we can have no quarrel with the biologist who assures us that because he understands Darwin, he is able to develop more disease resistant peaches, or the geologist who states that his understanding of Darwin enables him to better find oil. For my part, I would be a little sceptical of such statements, but I certainly cannot argue with them if I want better peaches or more oil. One reason I am sceptical of such claims stems from personal experience. I invite, for example, the reader to get a copy of the first edition of James Watson's "Microbiology of the cell" and read the paean to Darwin and compare it with the similar essay on Mendel in the same volume. Mendel's work relates very directly and very understandably to everything that follows. On the other hand, after waxing eloquent about what a wonderful guy Darwin was and how very important his work was, the only thing Dr. Watson can actually come up with to relate what follows in his volume to Darwin's work is that somehow it shows that cell biology follows the same rules as chemistry and physics. To someone in physics this is a stretch, although, Watson's partner, Francis Crick who was a physicist (Watson was a biologist), was a big fan of Darwin so he must of somehow made reconcilition, but the only reconciliation I ever heard in my studies was "life is an open system"--a rather lame reconciliation at best.

The point here is that we discuss and treat Darwin's theory different than any other scientific theory, and the way we treat it is really an indication that, in popular discourse at any rate, it is more in the political arena than the scientific arena. We will, in my opinion, never know the value of Darwin's theory until it is removed from the political arena, any more than we can know the value of anything that belongs in the free market, but is transferred into the poitical market.

In the next segment I will try to relate the problems that Darwinian thought has created for health care and thus relate the two controversies.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Controversies--4--Darwinian Evolution--1

In dealing with controversies I am still working with health care. I have in previous articles explored the political/economic policies that have contributed to our current poor state of health, e.g. the "Roosevelt" food plan that grew out of the farmer's subsidies and the "Truman" health care plan which grew out of the imposition of wage controls after WWII. I then looked at the implied policy, implied in that it is never explicitly stated as such, that because America is a "rich" country, that its citizens have the right to live as irresponsibly as the rich have traditionally lived. Today I begin an exploration into the deeper roots of our health problems. These extend back to the very beginning of our Republic and beyond to our European roots. I am going to do it in a rather round about way by looking at another controvery, i.e. Darwinian evolution.

It is important to recognize that although we discuss Darwinian evolution as a subject of science, the controversy that surrounds it has little to do with science and a great deal to do with politics. It is my firm belief that any object, theory or thing that properly belongs in the free market, whether that market is the market for sugar or homes, or capital, or ideas and theories, and is shifted to the political arena, where it really does not belong, determining the value of that thing/object/idea/theory becomes very difficult. Indeed, a great deal of the motivation to keep whatever it is that has been removed from the free market firmly in the political market place, is that those who keep it there are afraid that it (whatever "it" is) would be vastly undervalued in the free market. We will see how this applies to wages later. Today we are exploring this idea with respect to a theory--Darwin's theory of evolution.

For me, this is best illustrated by my own experience, which I offer forewith.

When I began my graduate school studies in biophysics, the physics department was about equally divided on the subject of evolution. About half said they were sceptical about it due to 2nd law (of thermodynamics) considerations and the other half essentially said, "The geologists and biologists accept it. They are scientists. I am a scientist. I wouldn't like them making declarations about my science, I don't think that I should make declarations about theirs." When, and if pressed, they would add, "Besides life is an open system and the 2nd law doesn't apply." My own major professor, and the university's only biophysicist had not made his view known, so I was eager to hear what he would say when he was asked to give a lecture on Darwinian evolution. The lecture was a part of a series of lectures on controversial topics, most of them, of course, political in nature. Dr. Dibble, my major professor, began his lecture by citing several of the examples provided to him by the geologists and biologists when they heard that he was to give the lecture. He said that he was impressed with all these "proofs" but that they did not overcome his own doubts due to the 2nd law considerations. In short, he could not accept the validity of the theory of evolution as expounded by Darwin because, he felt, it violated the 2nd law.

Had he been asked to give that lecture at the end of my graduate career, I suspect that he would have been forced to temper his conclusion considerably. The reason was that in the interim the legislature of Lousiana, in an effort to stem the outflow of students in the public school whose parents were using alternatives because of the objection to materials being taught, notably evolution, passed a law saying that if Darwinian evolution were taught an alternative should also be taught. Not surprisingly, the geological society and the biological society objected. Unfortunately, the American Physical Society, whose business, in my opinion, it was none of, also issued a statement of protest and added effectively, that anyone wishing to consider themselves a part of the physics community would back them up. This, of course, would have been only so much hot air, were it not for the fact that the American Physical Society wields a great deal of influence in deciding who gets government research grants. In other words, if you wanted to get any government money for your research, you better not be making any anti-Darwinian comments.

As a sop to the members of the society who had 2nd law objections, the society magazine "Physics Today" published an article by a Russian physicist showing, he claimed, at least, that at the beginning of every physical process there is a very short period of time when entropy decreases (i.e. the 2nd law is effectively violated). Conviently, he made the period of time for any observable process (such as an explosion) so short that his theory was not really experimentally verifiable. (For example, in a process such as an explosion which from beginning to end might last 30 seconds, the period of entropy increase was only one trilloneth of a second). His "proof" consisted largley of a series of rather complex statistical themodynamic equations. Since I was taking a graduate class in statistical themodynamics at the time, I suggested to the instructor that going over the equations in this article might afford a better example than the ones in the text book. He initially agreed, but later changed his mind saying that he didn't have time in the class to do it. My own guess is that he either didn't understand the equations himself or decided that the whole subject was too politically charged to get involved with.

In the next post I will continue this subject by looking at the difference in the way we look at typical science theories and the way we look at Darwinian evolution. For now, I merely wish to state that my own experiences, including the one detailed above have convinced me that knowing the truth of Darwin's theory--indeed of any theory--so long as it remains in the political arena is very difficult, if not impossible.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Supposing I come to you with the following proposition: "I know you hate to eat vegtables. I hate it too, but here is what I will do for you. For a price, of course, I will eat your vegtables. You can eat pies, cakes, cookies, hot dogs, fries, chips, anything you want and not worry about it, because you know that I will be eating spinach, lettuce, carrots, beets, broccoli and all that sort of thing, for you." I suspect that most people would say that closing with such a bargain would be stupid. But the important question is, "since almost all Americans would say that closing such a bargain would be insane, why do they actually eat as though they had closed it? I think there are at least two answers. First, most Americans do not really believe that what they eat is all that important. And second, Americans have been fed so much information and misinformation about what is best to eat, that they are hopelessly confused, and simply give up and eat whatever they want.

Let's deal with the second problem first. In his excellent book, "The China Study", T. Colin Campbell lists a typical days menu that falls within the current government recommendations for a healthy diet. For breakfast he suggests a bowl of Fruit Loops with low fat milk, with M&M candies for dessert. For lunch and double cheeseburger is recommended. Since that isn't much, a big meal is called for dinner consisting of 3 large slices of pizza, a large glass of soda pop, and a hearty helping of sugar cookies for dessert. He breaks this down and shows exactly how this menu fits into the current government guidelines for a healthy diet. The key, of course, is that if you do eat that way you have to take a multi-vitamin pill. So essentially, the government bureaucrats paid to recommend our lifestyle and diet, are saying that we can eat whatever we want as long as we take a multivitamin.

Now to the first problem. Essentially, that problem is why do Americans believe this. Do they really think that they can be healthy on a diet of Fruit Loops, M&Ms, cheeseburgers, pizza and sugar cookies as long as they take a multivitamin pill? The answer is that they probably don't think about it. They are convinced, because our political leaders have essentially told them so, that because they are Americans, they can live as irresponsibly as the rich have traditionally lived. And just as the rich have assumed they could in some way buy themselves out of the consequences of that irresponsibility, so Americans are told that if they vote for the right people, those people will see that their irresponsibility is paid for.

The consequences of both of these problems is, of course, tragic. At enormous cost, our people are indeed surviving many years with cancer, diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, osteoporosis, and numerous other chronic diseases. But how long will we be able to pay the cost?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


For the past twenty years, the most consistent controversy in American politics has been over health care. Currently, as the economy is struggling, that controversy takes the front page, but even in that case a good deal of the controversy swirls around the fact that when a person loses his job, he typically also loses his health insurance, i.e. his access to "affordable health care". Even among those in our population who currently consider themselves relatively healthy there is great concern about health. Few of them do not have a parent, a sibling, a close relative or friend who do not struggle with a very expensive, chronic disease. And, although our life span is increasing, or at least, if you believe the media reports, it is. It is becoming enormously expensive to keep it increasing. When I was grade school we talked about cancer in health class and, knowing it was a dread disease, I was enormously relieved to read in the text that it was almost (with the exception of leukemia) exclusively and entirely a disease afflicting the very aged and that anyone under 60 need not worry about it. Anyone who has read through the obituaries lately knows that that is no longer the case. Likewise, adult onset diabetes was a relatively rare disease. I personally knew or even knew of on one that had it. Now, among my older friends, there are very few who don't. I remember a statement by Paul Dudley White, famous as President Eisenhower's heart doctor, that in the early days of his practice, the average American doctor had never even seen a case of heart disease. The backdrop for the controversy over health care in America is the terribly poor health of the American people. But why are they in such poor condition?

The first, and possibly most important thing to recognize about American health is that it has never been good. Americans from the earliest days of our country's founding have suffered from poor health. My own feeling is that the reason for this is that Americans have always turned a large measure of the responsibility for their health over to government. This was, of course, a tradition that they inherited from Europe. There medical doctors were trained in government schools and were typically the third and fourth sons of nobility, i.e. those for whom a position had to be provided. The tradition of government control of medical schools passed on almost seamlessly to America even after it won independence from Britain. Benjamen Rush, a prominent founding father and medical doctor, is reported to have called for freedom of medicine during the early debates about our government, but obviously that call was never incorporated into the Constitution. Of course, had an amendment been passed in the Bill of Rights requiring freedom of medical practice, it would have had little effect until after the Civil War, because until then all regulation was at the state level, but it would certainly have an enormous impact today.

Actually, there came a time when we did experience a sort of freedom of medical practice. This occurred in the middle of the nineteenth century, when discontent with the standard medical practice became so widespread that a number of alternatives sprang up. But rather, than give up control of medicine, most state legislatures merely expanded the franchise. Many students who have a favorite alternative health practice such as Hygiene (my own favorite), hydropathy, natureopathy, osteopathy, etc, are surprised to discover as they study its history that many of the early practiciners of that alternative had MD degrees. This was due to the fact that many states would allow schools teaching those alternatives to grant MD degrees. After the Civil War, and particularly, after the formation of the AMA, this franchise was again narrowed down to allopathic schools, and the practiioners in other alternatives had to award different degrees, if, in fact, the practice of that alternative was allowed at all.

The control of medicine remained largely with the state governments until the beginning of the 20th century when, with the creation of the FDA, it passed increasingly to the federal government. Because medicine has always been government controlled in our country, the corollary has been that our people have always believed that health could, to a certain extent, be bought. But that belief was tempered a great deal, even in my youth, to the belief that only in a very limited way could health be bought. It has only been in the past 30 years or so that a many, if not most Americans, have subscribed to the idea that more money translated into more health. In fact, that health requires so much money that for the average person to enjoy maximum health, the cost must somehow be passed onto others. The reason that people were sceptical about that idea when I was young and before, in my opinion, is the common observation, that rich people, those who could afford unlimited health care, were not particularly healthy. They were the ones suffering from the host of chronic diseases. One, osteporosis, was even named Dowager's Hump, meaning rich woman's hump.

Two government policies have, in my opinion, contributed greatly to the demise of American health. Both came as "unintended consequences" of poor economic policies. The first, and most devastating, came with the decision by the Roosevelt Administration to subsidize the most politically powerful farmers, the cattlemen, the dairy farmers and the large grain growers. This in turn led to the promotion by the government of these crops which promotion was canoized as the "Four Food Group" plan. Under this plan, the American people were told that three-fourths of their food (by weight--a further addition to the deception) should come from very calorically dense foods, leaving the American people to get 100% of their nutrition from less than 5% of their calories. Indeed, if the government had not required that these foods be "enriched", Americans would have been dying from Third World deficiency diseases such as beriberi, rickets, and scurvy. As the government has become more involved financially with health, there has been a growing discension within the government itself about this food plan. The first result was the push to reduce the fat content of the items in the meat and dairy groups so that, if Americans chose to use low fat meats and dairy products, they would increase the nutritious portion of their diets to as much as 10%. Later, of course, the four food group plan was scrapped altogether in favor of the "Pyramid" which is a slight, albeit, very slight, improvement.

The other disaster was the implementation by the Truman Administration of wage and price controls after WWII. Since the Democratic party was largely dependent upon labor union support, they had to give concessions to the wage freezes and the concessions they gave were to allow benefits to be increased and not counted as wage increases. The result was the health care system as we know it. Because it was not really designed with health in mind at all, but rather as an under-the-counter wage increase, the result has been to harm, more than help, health. Indeed, any objective observer would not call it a "health-care" system at all. It is, in fact, for the young and early middle aged a system of symptom alleviation, and even, symptom supression, and for the older middle aged and elderly a system of disease management.

The result of all this has been that the American people have been consistently misled as to what constitues real health and many have been convinced that they have the absolute right to live as irresponsibly as the wealthy have generally lived with respect to health. The real controversy should not center around how can we get someone else to pay to get us healthy. The real controversy should be, how can we develop a true "health care" system.


Monday, August 4, 2008

Controversies--1--The Great American Dream

Early to Bed, Early to Rise
Makes a Man Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise.

Politicians talk a great deal about the "American Dream". In recent years, indeed, through my whole lifetime, politicians have reduced that dream to material terms. When I was young, it was "own your own business", during the Carter years, as interest rates and inflation rates soared, putting housing out of reach for many, it was "own your own home". Now, based on the rhetorick of the current candidates for political office, the current "American dream" has been reduced to owning a car with a full tank of gas, or being able to go to the doctor and still buy groceries. I suspect that the American dream has more or less evaporated and been replaced by the "European dream" as it has become more and more a political commodity.

Therefore, it is good, I believe, to review a little history. Roger Babson, in his delightful little book, "The Fundamentals of Prosperity" says that people in the US are comparitively well off and those in Latin America are comparitively poor because those who came to this country came seeking God and those who came to Central and South America came seeking gold. Of course, this is a generalization that anyone who has seen Disney's Pocahontas knows is not entirely correct. Babson was, of course, thinking of the Pilgrims and the Puritans that settled New England. There is no question that for the majority of those people, the "American Dream" was to establish "the city set on a hill", the Zion society to which God would send only those predestined to be saved.

By the time of the American revolution, the dream for most Americans had become more individualized or, at least, family directed. The hope of establishing an entire Zion society, had given way to the idea of individual and family success. The man that best characterizes the American Dream of that era is Benjamin Franklin. Here is a highly successful businessman, artisan, author, inventor, scientist--all very individual achievements. At the same time, Franklin recognised the importance of social co-operation and good government as well. He established a public library, worked toward many public works in his home town of Philadelphia and was active in local government. At the same time, he recognized the importance of good state and national government. He was active at both the state and national level. He is, of course, best remembered for his work at the latter--his effort to get the Declaration of Independence written and approved, his efforts to get French support for the American Revolution, and finally, his effort to get the Constitution written and accepted.

We are alway told that Franklin was a Deist, but his comments at the constitutional convention lead me to believe that he had moved from the position of Des Carte to that of Newton. His very famous comment there was, of course, that if the govenor of the universe will not suffer a sparrow to fall without his notice, is it likely that He will help a great nation to arise without his assistance? Like Franklin, most Americans saw the American Dream as firmly rooted in indivdual responsibility and achievement, at the same time recognizing the importance of the need for social assistance. The government's role was seen largely as negative, i. e. eliminating those from the scene who want to live exclusively, or almost so, at the expense of others. That was seen as the "European Dream".

I have quoted Franklin's most famous couplet above, because I believe, until fairly recently, the achievement of health, wealth, and wisdom in some form, and in some combination, was the primary goal of most Americans, i. e. the achievement of one or more, or even all, was the "American Dream" and it was widely believed that this was achieved best without government assistance and with as little government interference as possible.

We will look at each in turn, because, of course, all three, have become in our day, very much the stuff of political controversy and we will contrast them with the American Dream and visions of other countries. We begin with "Health" largely because the "American dream" in that area has never been realized or even explained very well and we will look for possible reasons why in future articles.

Friday, August 1, 2008


During the month of August--and maybe beyond--I will be writing about various controversies. Most controversies originate in political discourse, but I begin with one that we do not normally think of as being political at all; although, of course, like most others it had a political component. I choose it because I believe that it gets to the very heart of the real basis of most controversies. In the discussions of the various controversies that follow, I may not be able to track the nature of the controversy back to the roots that we see so clearly in this one, but those roots are there and that makes this an excellent starting point.

The controversy I deal with today was between Rene Des Carte and Isaac Newton, and like I said, it goes to the very heart, in my opinion, of most controversies.

DesCarte was a famous French philosopher, mathematician and scientist. Like many French intellectuals of his day (and since), he was a sceptic in matters of religion. I believe that one reason for the widespread scepticism in France was the fact that only one strain of belief was allowed. A few years before Des Carte all the dissenters from the State Church (known in France as Huguenots) were slaughtered largely in a single night--St. Barthlemew's Eve. This is one of history's most famous clamping down on unpopular opinions and has looked on with tremendous envy by governments everywhere ever since. After that everyone in France who wanted to think differently had to remain nominally Catholic, but it was quite OK, especially if you were smart to be a sceptic. When the sceptics finally managed to make their belief the State Church (during the first French Revolution), they proceeded to prove that as much as they envied the speed and dispatch with which dissenters were dealt with by the Catholics, they were unable to imitate it so it took them a few years. Part of the problem was that the dissenters were not as easy to identify. At first they were called "nobles" but since over 80% of the people being disposed of were not of the traditional nobility, it became necessary to identify them by some other title. They finally settled on the title that has stuck through several regimes of sceptics ever since (e.g. communists, fascists, nazis,etc) i.e. "people the government does not like". But, I digress. Anyway, Des Carte was a sceptic and like all sceptics, and, for that matter, almost everyone else, he wanted to find scientific validation for his religious view. So he postulated a theory of the universe in which God set the universe in motion and then simply left. This self-perpetuating motion of the universe consisted of a huge whirlpool or a system of vortices.

Isaac Newton did not like Des Carte's theory at all. Of course, he did not much care for controversy, so he never mentions Des Carte by name. He simply tells us that the theory of vortices has problems. One problem, which, according to my science history professor, no one really knows the answer to is "why didn't Des Carte put mathematics to his theory?" He was an excellent mathematician, certainly capable of using math to test the model. My guess is that he did try to put math to his model but when it didn't work, he decided that he would rather have a model that supported his scepticsm than one that was mathematically correct. Newton tells us that it was precisely his scepticsm that tripped Des Carte up. God is a govenor, he says, and like all good govenors, He is interested in what goes on in the realm over which He has governance.

Of course, it is Newton's theory of the universe that we typically use today. He applied mathematics to his and it worked. But the key, as we all know, is the theory of universal gravitation. The French immediately accused Newton of keeping the universe together by a "perpetual miracle". It was Newton's willingness to accept the governance of God and hence, the workings of a force that he could not fully understand, that enabled him to make what many consider the greatest leap forward in the history of science.

Einstein, of course, was also a sceptic. He did not like Newton's force any more than the French. For that matter all "action at a distant" forces were suspect with him. He spent his life trying to eliminate them--with some success, most scientists feel, with the Newtonian gravitaional force and with none whatsoever with the electrical force. But even with the Newtonian force, it must be acknowledged that if we were required to start with Einstein's equations, only PhD physicists could mathematicall describe something so simple as a ball falling in a vacuum. Of course, since Einstein's formulation includes a negative term it has been tremendously productive for science fiction writers, if for little else.

As we launch into a discussion of a series of controversies, it is well to remember that at bottom they turn, like the controversy between Des Carte and Newton, to a certain extent, at least, on whether God is a govenor interested in the day to day activities of His subjects.