Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Remembering Dad--1

I guess I always took it for granted that Dad always had plenty of money and could give me anything I wanted but didn’t because he felt that it would not be good for me, so he was inclined to be chintzy, supposedly for my own good. Mom, on the other hand, would always give me anything I wanted--if she could, but most of the time she couldn’t because she was as dependent upon Dad as I was and it seemed to me that he was rather chintzy with her as well. I assumed it was probably because Dad recognized Mom’s weakness toward me and had to hold back on both of us "for my own good". As I say, I felt that way until the Christmas just before I turned eight.
The first Christmases I remember were as a very young boy when we were living in Germany. I don’t remember much about them, but I do remember that I thought they were absolutely wonderful. We always got a few little toys and our wooden shoes were filled with candy--mostly hard tack, but because we didn’t get very much candy in Germany, it was a real treat. Later, after we had returned to the US I came to resent the amount of hard tack candy in my Christmas stocking, feeling that it took up room that would be much better served with jelly and chocolate candies--a feeling that I shared--rather pointedly--in a letter to Santa--a feeling he must not have sympathized with because the amount of hard tack was not diminished. Nor did he dispense with the orange--a suggestion I also made pointing out that we had plenty of oranges in the kitchen.
I always felt that if our situation could be described, it would be described as one of "plenty". I suspect that part of the reason for that feeling was that although, in a sense, we were part of the occupying US forces, we were not military, and, therefore, lived among the German people. Our situation, compared with theirs, was one of great fortune.
Many years later, Dad told me what happened when we came back to the US. Dad had always been a civil servant, and, I suspect, planned on always being one. After he graduated from George Washington U. with a law degree, he was hired as the head of Social Security for the state of Arizona. But at the meeting with the senior senator from Arizona in which his appointment was announced, the Senator looked over his resume. "How can anyone from Idaho be over Social Security in Arizona?" he bellowed. "He is far and away the best qualified candidate," the Federal Social Security administrator assured him. "I don’t care about that", the Senator roared. "I don’t care if the guy over Social Security is blind, can’t read, can’t write, and has to use an X for his signature, all I care about is that he be from Arizona!"
So Dad’s appointment was rescinded and he was made the director of Social Security for Southern Idaho with offices in Pocatello instead. It turns out, that was probably a good thing, because Loni and I were born there and it seems that the only place Mom could ever have any children was in Pocatello. But Dad was ambitious and eager to get ahead. The chance came when the position for assistant Federal Attorney (or whatever they call the District Attorney for a State) became vacant. He applied and got the job, so we moved to Boise. We hadn’t lived in Boise very long when Dad got the chance to work with the war crime trials in Germany and he jumped at the chance.
I think the two years we spent in Germany were among the happiest of parent’s married life. They got to travel. Mom got to buy some really nice figurines and other beautiful things that were always so important to her and Dad really enjoyed his work. Of course, there were concerns as well, especially during the Berlin Airlift, when it looked like we might go to war with Russia and out family was in the place most likely to be first attacked. It was, in fact, the tension created by the Berlin Airlift that created the problem for Dad that resulted in his not being a permanent civil servant. If we were involved in a war with Russia, obviously, we wanted the wholehearted support of the German people. Amongst those people, Dad’s activity--the war crime trials--was very unpopular. They were halted and Dad came home.
When he went back to Washington to apply for a field position, he was told that because of his involvement with the war crimes trials--now a politically incorrect activity to have gotten oneself tied up with--they didn’t feel that they could send him "out into the field". Dad told me that his old boss at Social Security told him, "We certainly owe you something, but it will have to be here in Washington."
Dad told me many years later that after he heard that he went out and traveled around Washington. He said he looked at the people and the businesses and other things that were going on and said to himself, "I can’t do this. I can’t raise a family in this kind of environment." So he cut ties with the government and "hung out his shingle" in his hometown, Pocatello.
But it was pretty tough sledding in the first few years. Most of the time Dad was working. We hardly ever saw him. When he did come home for dinner, it was in, out, and back to the office. I can remember several occasions when Mom would hand me a little paper bag and say, "Take this to your Dad. It is his dinner. He is studying in the law library at the courthouse." (The courthouse was only a couple of blocks from our house.) Every year in those first years back from Germany Dad would call together shortly before Christmas and say something like, "I don’t want you to expect much from Christmas because we simply don’t have much money this year." Of course, that never bothered Loni or me (or, at least, it never bothered me) because all we ever got from Mom and Dad for Christmas was clothes. All the good stuff came from Santa Claus. I didn’t care that much what I wore, so even if Dad couldn’t afford to buy us anything, it was fine with me. I knew for one thing that if we ever ran out of clothes (which didn’t seem likely) that our Grandparents would come to the rescue before we had to go school naked.
All that changed shortly before the Christmas of my eighth year. Dad, as usual, called us together and said that we should not expect much for Christmas that year. I was a little uneasy because I had asked for a bicycle--something I knew to be quite expensive. So the next day I said to Mom, "Tell Dad not to worry about Christmas. Santa will take care of it for us."
Mom paused for a minute or two and then said rather deliberately (and I wish I could remember her exact words) something like, "I’m afraid that when people are poor, Santa doesn’t give them very much because he doesn’t want poor children to be spoiled and become dissatisfied with their parents." This was rather a shock to me, to say the least, but I more or less gave up on the whole idea of a bike.
Christmas came and I got my bicycle and several other things, smaller toys candy, and, of course, clothes. There was a hitch--a very bad hitch. The bicycle was an "American Flyer". I had seen it in a catalogue, so I knew that Santa Claus had not given it to me--it was Dad.
The next day I asked Mom, "What happens if someone can’t afford something and they tell the man at the store that they will pay for it later, but they really don’t have the money to pay for it?"
"Why they send the police to take the thing back and sometimes they put the person in jail." Mom sounded to me that she was as worried as I was about Christmas.
For the next few days, indeed, until I had to go back to school, I would sit by the front window. Every time a police car went by, I was sure he was coming to take back my bike and would demand to know where Dad was, so he could arrest him. After a while, of course, I ceased to worry and when spring came, I simply enjoyed the bike. Indeed, I think it was one of two Christmas presents I received that I remember with real fondness.
Years later I asked Dad why he always called us in and gave us the "don’t-expect-much-for-Christmas" lecture and then always bought so much to insure that we had a wonderful
Christmas. "You know," he replied with obvious pleasure as he reflected back. "That was the most amazing thing. When I called you in and told your mother and you kids not to expect much, I was in real earnest. I was almost desperate. But every year in those first few years when we were struggling, clients would come in just before Christmas--in a few cases, clients I had sent so many bills to that I never really expected them to pay me at all, and they would pay their entire bill. Generally, they would say something like,’I’m sorry this has taken so long, but I want to clear this out before the end of the year’. So we always had a nice Christmas. It’s a miracle really, or at least, I always thought it was."
Some people deserve miracles--Dad was one.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Personal Economics

With this essay I bring my series on economics to a close. This essay and the previous two require extensive work, but I decided that I need to get it over with and move on. Next month I plan to do reviews.
Personal Economics--Conclusion
Ever since Adam Smith showed that, because of the benefits we all derive from the division of labor, every real advance in economics has shown us how we can better live together in peace. Peace is the reward for correct living. When men are at peace they serve each other in ways they cannot even conceive. People on the other side of the world make it possible for me to enjoy blessings that help me meet my needs, but they do it without knowing me or without me knowing them. People all over the world help each other by helping themselves when they live by the six simple rules outlined in the previous essays.
Following those simple rules helps us to avoid the pitfalls that create disharmony, contention, and finally, conflict, which, in extreme cases results in violence and war. The first pitfall is the use of force to make others adopt our ends. The second, even more destructive, is the use of force to make others serve our ends. The subjective theory of value, Rule IV, applies not only to things but even more so to ends. I cannot judge< or place a value for you, on your ends. When I do, I almost always am tempted to use force for one of the purposes above, i.e. to get you to adopt mine or to use you to serve my ends.
What real economics attempts to do is first have people clarify their ends, i.e. decide what it is that you really want. Having clarified your ends, examine the means to achieve those ends. There is no purpose in attempting to examine and evaluate other peoples ends, but there is purpose in examining and evaluating the means they use to achieve those ends.
When we examine the means people use to achieve the ends they declare in light of the 6 rules outlined in the previous essays, we find that the means frequently lead to very different ends. In the eyes of the Austrians, this is the best way to determine if means are "good" or "bad"--"moral" or "immoral". In every action we should ask ourselves, what is the end I wish to achieve and will this action--the means--achieve that end?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Personal Economics--Rule VI

Personal Economics--Rule VI
"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rules of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."
Rule VI says basically, "Know your enemy and keep your guard up." This rule stems from the work of Ludwig von Mises and Frederick Hayek, but Hayek shared the Nobel Prize for his work in explicating it. In economics it is simply the explanation of what is called the business cycle or boom-bust cycle. Karl Marx had explained it simply as an inherent feature of capitalism. Others had tried to explain it in a more detailed manner, but had failed. For example Stanley Jevons had attempted an explanation that correlated the boom-bust cycle with sunspots. At first glance, this sounds even more mysterious than the Marx it-is-just-an-inexplicable-part-of-capitalism theory. But Jevons theory attempted to make it more rationalistic, because it would tie the boom-bust cycle to a crop productivity cycle.
What von Mises and Hayek did was to show that the boom-bust cycle in the economy was tied to credit expansion. Banks increase their profits by making more loans and, hence, the temptation is to cut back on their reserves and loan more of their available capital. Of course, if a single bank does this and becomes over-extended, they quickly get into trouble. The problem is self-correcting. The problem only becomes a national one when there is a government controlled central bank, such as the Federal Reserve. Most countries have these. They are able to extend the money supply, i.e. allow all the member banks to expand their credit, thus lowering the interest rate. Unfortunately, this creates an artificial boom. It sends false signals to entrepreneurs who are eager to launch new enterprises, but are restrained from doing so for all but the most promising enterprises by the shortage of available investment capital. When, however, the money supply is expanded, i.e. inflated, the illusion is created that there is plenty of capital for investment in enterprises that earlier seemed unpromising. Unfortunately, all that has been expanded is credit. In an uncorrupt society, capital is available only as people save--hence, leaving vital resources, e.g. capital goods, available entrepreneurs. Thrift is a virtue not only because it allows individuals and families to prepare against a rainy day, but because it permits investment in new tools, equipment and plants and, thereby, increases the value of the labor of the people who have better equipment and tools to work with. Hence, the virtue of thrift increases prosperity.
Credit expansion, i.e. inflating the money supply gives the illusion that society is ‘better off’, i.e. more virtuous, without actually being so. Entrepreneurs feel that there is more capital available but the amount of capital goods remains the same. This becomes clear when it is apparent that many entrepreneurs have invested in enterprises that cannot be sustained. They lay off workers, some even go bankrupt and the economy is said to be in the bust part of its cycle.
If, for example, I, and thousands of others, decide to put off buying a new car, and put the money saved in the bank, then there is not only money available to loan, but there is additional steel so if an entrepreneur decides to build a new factory, the necessary steel is available. If, however, I, and thousands of others, go ahead and buy the new car, and the so-called capital is available only because the money supply has been inflated, there is no additional steel available for the building of the factory and before it can be built, the price of steel rises to the point that the new factory enterprise is clearly not going to be profitable and is abandoned.
The bottom line is that the desire to have "something for nothing", to succeed without effort, to have all the good of virtuous living without any actual virtue, has put pressure on the government to expand the money supply and, hence, create a boom. This undermines the work of entrepreneurs who become bitter because they have been misled, and misinformed. They feel betrayed and turn to political entrepreneurship. People become convinced that only political action is effective and that the only way to succeed is to use the force of law. In economics, credit expansion is analogous to sin--enticing at first, but leaves disaster in its wake.
On a personal level it is a reminder that if life is getting easier, you better be awfully careful that you are not entering an artificial boom made possible by an enemy creating an illusion. Hence, it is always a good idea to "know your enemy and what he is up to."

Friday, August 7, 2009

Personal Economics--Rule V.

Personal Economics--Rule V
Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.
Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets.
Rule V says simply that it is the entrepreneurial component of our exchanges that improves our lives, increases our choices, hence, our freedom, and advances civilization. Of course, in the ordinary exchanges that we make every day, it is hard to recognize an entrepreneurial component at all. An entrepreneurial component occurs when something has changed, when things are no longer as they have been and that change results in an opportunity for us to serve in a way that requires us to foresee future events and that will help people in ways they have not been previously helped--as we say, "to do something different."
The most successful entrepreneurs are envied because they reap what are called profits. Real profit is a very poorly understood concept. In a sense, if I plant a seed and reap twenty, forty, or even sixty times what I planted even after subtracting the cost of fertilizers, water and other inputs we refer to that as profit, but it becomes entrepreneurial profit only if it is serving a need that has come about as a result of a change. If, for example, I realize that people need bread so I purchase an existing farm and begin growing wheat, I am not in the strictest Austrian sense an entrepreneur. If thousands of others have done likewise and there is, consequently, a large surplus of wheat so that I and the other thousands cannot even break even on our venture, and in that extremity, I use my wheat for something entirely different, or market it in a new way, or in some other way use my wheat to bring something to consumers that they want but is new to them, then I become an entrepreneur.
It is important to recognize the difference between technical components of exchange and entrepreneurial components. George Washington Carver, for example, discovered many new products that could be made with peanuts, because so many people were growing peanuts that the situation was for them like the one outlined above for wheat farmers. What he did was provide technical input. If he, or anyone else, actually made and marketed any of those new products and consequently, gained more resources in the making and marketing than were used in the growing of the peanuts, he became an entrepreneur..
It is important to recognize that it is the entrepreneurial component of every exchange that enriches our lives and advances civilization. But it is also true that because entrepreneurs are envied and because so many people are eager to live without having to actually serve that entrepreneurs are almost always--and particularly in corrupt cultures--vilified. In our country where kings are looked down on, extremely successful entrepreneurs are referred to pejoratively as "kings". Hence, Andrew Carnegie was the "steel king", Hershey the "chocolate king". Our history books refer to these men as being powerful and often, devious and underhanded, and other characteristics we associate with kings. But it is important, indeed, it is critical to remember that kings, like Henry VIII and Louis XIV, were powerful because they ruled. An entrepreneurial king is powerful only to the extent that he serves. The day that consumers feel that Nestle’s chocolate it cheaper or better (or both) than Hershey’s, is the day that Hershey becomes the "former chocolate king".
All too often we confuse technical ability and expertise with entrepreneurship. Two examples, that I like to use to illustrate the difference are Thomas Edison and Gilbert and Sullivan.
Thomas Edison is often criticized as having borrowed other’s ideas, purchased their patents and then taken credit for the invention himself. For example, Joseph Swann’s English patent on the electric light bulb preceded Edison’s and numerous other inventors had patents relating to the electric light bulb, some of which Edison purchased, but the fact remains that without Edison we would not have had a working electric light bulb in people’s homes anywhere near as soon as we did, and possibly not ever. Edison and his team got all the financing and made all the auxiliary inventions and equipment necessary to make the electric light bulb available to the ordinary consumer.
My personal favorite is Gilbert and Sullivan. I very much enjoy their operettas, particularly, "Pirates", "Gondoliers", and "Patience". But the fact of the matter is that we would not have had those many operettas were it not for the entrepreneur who worked so hard to get the two to work together, Richard D’Oily Carte. Indeed, the real end of the relationship (with the "Gondoliers") came largely because Carte abandoned his role as entrepreneur and took sides with Sullivan. Recognizing his mistake, he tried to heal the breech, and the two did, in fact, collaborate on two more operettas, but so half-heartedly that they are never performed except by companies determined to claim to have done them all. Like all entrepreneurs, Carte took risks. For example, he was the first person in England to install electric lighting in a theater. Like most, he also had his failures. For example, he built a theater that was to be used exclusively for English operas. The first one (by Sullivan) ran for 160 consecutive performances--probably a world record for consecutive performances for an opera, but their was no second "English opera" so Carte had to sell his theater to a vaudeville company.
Rule V says simply that we should strive to increase the entrepreneur component of all our interactions. Real entrepreneurs are essential to the free society. The essential ingredients in entrepreneurial activity are courage and foresight--two qualitites almost totally missing in government planners, bureaucrats, politicians, and, alas, in most, corporate managers.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Personal Economics--Rule IV

Personal Economics--Rule IV
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal....."
Declaration of Independence
"Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons."
Rule IV in personal economics was originally formulated by Carl Menger--an Austrian. It says simply that the value of anything can be determined only in exchange and the only people who make that determination are those who are parties to the exchange. There is no such thing as a value in use--a concept that grew out of the idea that value can be objectively determined. Likewise, the moment an exchange is made, the value of the exchanged items becomes a fact of history, but not of economics--a reality known to almost anyone who has ever purchased a new automobile and then soon decides he would like to sell it.
This rule, based on the subjective theory of value, is the basis for peaceful relations between people and peoples. Some people believe that the idea of the division of labor is sufficient to guarantee peace. This results in a sort of "enlightened self-interest", but unfortunately, this is seldom enough to guarantee peace for the simple reason that when we are stressed, we tend to feel that our interests are more important than others. It is only in the constant reminder, through every means possible, religious, moral, political, and economic, that every other man or woman is as important as we are, that we can hope to achieve lasting peace. The political statement of that fact is in our founding document, the Declaration of Independence. The economic statement of that fact, and the necessary adjunct to the political statement is rule IV i.e. the subjective theory of value.
We see the violation of this rule on every hand. A common example is the price of gasoline. As soon as the price rises, there is a hue and cry for politicians to use the force of law to bring the price down. Rule IV says, however, that no one can determine what the price of gasoline should be except those who are exchanging something to obtain it. The obvious remedy if a person feels that the price is too high is not buy any. The usual response to this suggestion is, "I have no choice. I need gasoline to run my car and I need the car to go to work." This is, of course, false. A person always has alternatives in a free society. By calling for the use of force, a person is simply saying that he wishes everything to stay the same and is, therefore, willing, even eager, to use force to adjust things to suit himself.
Of course, if the price is high because the government is subsidizing it or regulating it or in some other way using the force of law to maintain it, the complaint is legitimate, but the means are not. It hardly justifies using force on your side because force is being used on the other. Rule IV still applies, however, making an attempt to get the subsidies, regulations, etc, removed is, naturally, a legitimate effort. When Ronald Reagan announced that he would remove all regulations from the price of gasoline, his critics countered that the price would quickly rise dramatically to #3 a gallon. The price at the time was just under $2 a gallon. They were right. The price quickly rose, but then steadily declined until it got down to almost $1 a gallon. Reagan was simply applying Rule IV to gasoline. Nobody knows what it "should" cost except those who are buying and/or selling it. Once the transaction, i.e. the sale, is completed, the price, while of interest, is not an economic fact, it is a historical fact, interesting, but not determining.
I well remember going into the gas station where I usually buy gas a few weeks after Reagan made his announcement. The manager told his clerk in a very discouraged tone of voice, "I’ve got to go out and lower the prices again." Before Reagan made his announcement and for a few weeks after, the price was always raised in the middle of the night just as the station was closing, but now it was being lowered in the middle of the day so everyone could see that the station owner was trying to remain competitive. The station closest to my house went out of business at this time. I guess the owner felt that at that low a price, he simply could not compete. His last act upon closing the station for the last time was list the price of gasoline on the big markee as being $5.99 per gallon. That is undoubtedly what he wished he could charge and possibly felt that it would take that price to stay in business, but he knew that he would get no takers, so he went quietly into the night--no longer a gas station owner.
Rule IV is most controversial when it is applied to labor. People selling their services tend to feel that they are better than others. When they buy services, e. g. hire someone to mow their lawn, they typically do it in the way they would buy anything else, i.e. they offer to pay a certain amount in exchange for the service. But when they are selling their services they are eager to use the force of law on their side and burden the cost of their labor with all kinds of benefits and extensions and provisions making it difficult to be laid off or fired. They then comment, "You shouldn’t be able to buy a man’s work like you would buy a sack of potatoes." What the person is saying, of course, is that in his mind he is better than others and deserves to be treated better.
Politicians, political activists, lobbyists, lawyers, have been eager to use this conceit to get laws passed and become advocates for the "working man". The result, of course, is that labor is enormously burdened and unemployment is common.
Of course, Rule IV actually extends to all values, not just exchangeable goods, because in a civilized society we are always exchanging--ideas, thoughts, information, theories as well as tangible goods. Rule IV says that we can only judge another person’s values in such exchanges. His opinion, his ideas, his lifestyle, is equal to everyone else’s until he must bring them somehow into the marketplace for exchange. Then his value, and his values, can be objectively determined, but only by those who are party to the exchange.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Personal Economics--Prelude to Austrian Rules--II

Personal Economics--Prelude to Austrian Rules--II
"I have shewed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive."
Most economists today are collectivist in outlook, as are most ordinary people, unfortunately. When we think about economics we do it in terms of collectives e.g. the rich, the poor, the employers, the working man, the middle class, etc. We measure national wealth, not as Adam Smith did, by looking to see how well off the individual worker is, but in terms of Gross National Product, or the unemployment rate, or the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
But the Austrians, starting with Carl Menger, returned the study of economics to its roots by making the study of economics the study of individuals and their actions in the marketplace. Everything boils down to the individual exchange. Indeed, "the economy" can be defined as the framework--physical, cultural, social, legal, moral--in which exchanges are made. A "good economy" is simply one in which exchanges are unhampered. A "bad economy" is one in which exchanges are regulated, controlled, or uncertain in their results. The worst economy is one in which the legal or moral or cultural climate is so unfavorable to exchanges that they become difficult, almost impossible, as for example, when criminals are in charge and stealing or fraud are prevalent, or when corrupt politicians control government so that the medium of exchange is being rendered increasingly worthless by the government pilfering we now call inflation.
Let us look at simple exchange from an Austrian perspective and see what we can learn from it before we get into the rules of personal economics that result from Austrian perspectives.
Suppose my wife sends me to the grocery store with instructions to buy five items. Convinced that I can easily remember so short a list I take off without bothering to put pencil to paper. I arrive at the store, go over the list in my mind, and realize that I have forgotten two items. I try various memory tricks, such as going up and down the isles mentally and recalling my wife’s actions as she was dictating the list, but nothing works. Two items have escaped me. I decide that rather than go all the way back home, I will simply use the pay phone outside the store to call my wife, I discover, however, to my chagrin, that it only takes change and that I have only bills. I, therefore, stop a fellow as he is coming out of the store and ask him if he can give me coins in exchange for a dollar bill. He very obligingly reaches into his pocket and announces that he can.
At this point we pause and examine this exchange about to take place. The first insight of Austrian economics is that exchanges are very much a function of time, place and circumstance, such as outlined above. This is indicated, in the example above, by the fact that as the fellow reaches into his pocket to see if he has enough coins, I may look into his shopping cart and the sight of what he has purchased may jog my memory so that I say, "Never mind, seeing the butter and eggs in you shopping cart reminded me that that is what I needed to buy. I don’t need the coins to make a call any more. Thanks anyway." The circumstances have changed and no exchange takes place. I could also look at my watch and realize that I have wasted so much time trying to remember what I was supposed to buy that I no longer have time to shop before I must be at an apointment and, therefore, I call off the exchange. The point is that every exchange is a function of time, place, and circumstances which no central authority can possibly foresee.
More important, however, is the actual exchange itself. If the exchange does in fact take place, an onlooker e.g. the banker, the beaurocrat at the mint, the politician regulating various exchanges, would say that the exchange was an exchange of equal values, i.e. four quarters for a dollar bill. Indeed, collectivists say that all exchanges are ideally exchanges of equal value.
For the Austrian, however, exhanges of equal value never take place. This is a crucial point. An exchange always involves some effort and some thought. If, therefore, I thought I would be exactly as well off after the exchange as before, why would I even bother to make it? The answer, of course, is that I wouldn’t. Of course, even the banker, the bureaucrat, the politician, would probably acknowledge that because of my circumstances, my need for coins, I really was better off after the exchange, but what of the other fellow? He didn’t come out of the store hoping to relieve himself of his coins. If he really wanted fewer coins, he could have used them in making his purchases in the store. In what way can he be said to have been better off for making the exhange?
In answering that question, we get at the wonder of the free market. Austrian economists, like Adam Smith before them, realized that there is a factor— a vital factor--in the market that transcends the material exchange. This factor, depending on the outlook of the observer, is labeled as moral, as spiritual, as psychic. But it is critically important. When exhanges are controlled, hampered, undermined, and freedom of exchange is violated in any way, men become increasingly materialistic. As exchanges become freer, men become less materialistic. Art, music, culture, religion and innumerable other non-materialistic aspects of life--what we sometimes refer to as "civilization" become increasingly important in our exchanges. The fellow who gave up his quarters came off better because his was a spiritual or psychic gain.
This is, in fact, the power of the free market. Both parties in an exchange feel like they were the winner in that exchange. Anytime we make a free exchange we can be confident that we gave more than we got. At the same time we got more than we gave. That is why free markets are so peaceful. Everyone who uses it feels he is a winner. In every exchange we feel that we have made not only a gain in some material item but we have gained a friend. Looking at the marvel of free and willing exchange, Austrian economist said that even so materialistic (or even "grubby", in common political terms today) as profit is really a psychic or spiritual phenomenon.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Personal Economics--Prelude to Austrian Rules-I

Personal Economics--Prelude to Austrian Rules
"..nine tenths of the calamities that have befallen the human race had no other origin than the union of high intelligence with low desires."
The first three rules come from "Classical Economics"--the first two from Adam Smith and the third from Jean-Baptiste Say. Unfortunately, Adam Smith made a mistake that took economics off course for many years. The mistake is called the labor theory of value. Adam Smith loved the individual person so much and was so convinced of his natural system of liberty and in the ultimate harmony of interests amongst people--all of which conflict with the labor theory of value, that he was not really dogmatic about it. In his first book and even in much of the Wealth of Nations, he either ignores it or flat out contradicts it. It remained for a disciple--David Ricardo--who extended Smith’s economics but was frequently in conflict with his basic philosophy--to nail down the labor theory of value and make it a pillar of classical economics.
Marx made the labor theory of value the foundation for his own economics, with the tragic results that have plagued modern history, but the majority of 19th century economists, who were not particularly excited about Marxist ideas struggled, while still attempting to hold onto the labor theory of value. The question is, what caused Adam Smith to make his mistake in the first place? There is a wonderful essay by the French economist, Frederick Bastiat that I think explains it better than anyone. He said that the problem stems from the fact that in the 18th and early 19th centuries, intellectuals were enamored of the classical Greek and Roman cultures. Much of this stemmed from the fact that everyone aspiring to a university degree was required to learn Greek and Latin. In the time of John Milton this made sense, especially Latin, because it was used as the language of communication for all of Europe. Milton wrote anything he wanted read outside of England in Latin. Newton wrote his great treatise in Latin so that people outside of England could read it. But by the time of Adam Smith, Latin no longer served that purpose. Almost all valuable treatises were published either in English French or German and usually made available in translation. The real motivation for the learning of Latin and Greek was, in Macaulay’s words, "the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome". Intellectuals envied these two cultures because they were able to control so much of the world. Unfortunately, as Bastiat points out, it was a control based on violence. I believe, that Adam Smith’s mistakes and indeed the mistakes in economic and political thought of many intellectuals, including Hugh Nibley at my own university, can be traced to this admiration of these two ancient cultures. Adam Smith, I believe, felt that that same control could be obtained in a more peaceful way, if a person could somehow figure out what everything was really worth; hence, the labor theory of value.
This stranglehold on economics was finally solved, as so many problems are in human history, independently and almost simultaneously by three men--Stanley Jevons in English, Leon Walrus in French, and Carl Menger in German. The solution was called the marginal theory of value and had enormous appeal because it has a very mathematical ring to it.. But of the three, only Carl Menger carried the marginal theory of value to its logical conclusion. Because Menger was actually Austrian as were his early disciples, the insights developed from his initial insight have come to be known as Austrian economics. In the next installment I will attempt to explore the Austrian return to Adam Smith’s principal insight, i.e. that wealth, even the wealth of nations did not depend upon the work of the nobles and aristocrats, but rather on the work of the ordinary citizen. All of their incredible understanding of economics begins with the actions of individuals. So in the next section we will explore a simple transaction and see what we can learn from it and then explore the three rules growing out of Austrian economics.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Personal Economics--Rule III

Unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness.
It is the aim of good governments to stimulate production, of bad governments to encourage consumption.
Jean-Baptiste Say
Rule III used to be known as the law of markets. It says basically that production proceeds consumption, or, in other words, that we pay for what we consume from what we--or someone else--has produced. In our day, it has been renamed "Say’s Law" because the basis of Keynesian economics is essentially a denial of the validity of this law, so, in essence, Keynes rechristened it as "Say’s Opinion." Keynes, in referring to it often quoted James Mill’s attempt at an abbreviation--"supply creates its own demand." This seems to imply that anything that is produced will be sold, which, of course, is clearly not true, at least, not true if we mean by being sold "covering at least the cost of production". But the basic rule is, that production must proceed consumption and we pay for our consumption out of something that someone has produced. For Say, the critical problem is production. For Keynes it is consumption. Indeed, when listening to modern Keynesian economists, you get the feeling that they feel that production is automatic--it takes care of itself. Of course, this isn’t true and even the most die-hard Keynes disciple has to acknowledge that at some point things must be produced; hence part of the reason that modern economics is so laden with mathematics. Economists are busy calculating, using ever increasing sophisticated tools, just exactly when we need to begin to worry about production.
The effect of the denial of Say’s Law in our day is devastating and we see it all around us in a hundred different ways. At the slightest hint of a recession the headline scream, "Consumer confidence is down." Like Elvis Presley, we’ll have a "Blue Christmas" if the retail sales figures early in December indicate that people are spending less than they did the previous year. To get out of, or even to prevent, a downturn in the economy, politicians call for measures to "jump-start the economy" or to "prime the pump". They pass out stimulation money. They start government make-work projects. Anything and everything to "get money moving in the economy". Congressmen fight endlessly to keep defense plants open even if they are building archaic weapons. Military bases and installations that serve almost no useful function e.g. Fort Douglas in my own town, are somehow argued to be vital, if not to the defense of the nation, at least, to its economic welfare.
But most devastating is the effect on individuals, for two reasons. First, they lose the wealth that would have been created if all this spending had been done on productive enterprises, but even more destructive is the idea that we are serving a useful purpose just by consuming and spending.
My own favorite statement of Say’s Law on a personal level came in a graduation speech at my daughter, Natasha’s, graduation from Skyline High School. Lyn Davidson, a member of the Granite School board who had spoken at the two previous graduations I attended because older sons were graduating, admitted that he had run out of things to say on such occasions so he had asked his 90 year old mother what he could say. She responded, "You tell those young people what I told you when you graduated from high school."
"Mom," Mr Davidson complained, "that was a long time ago. I really don’t remember what you told me then. Could you remind me?"
"Well," the mother replied, "if you don’t remember that then tell them what I told you when you graduated from college."
"Mom," he protested, "that was almost as long ago. I really don’t remember."
"What I told you when you graduated from high school, " she said with great emphasis, "is what I told you when you turned 18, what I told you when you turned 21, and what I told you when you graduated from college. It isn’t turning a certain age, or getting a diploma or a degree, or a certificate or a license that makes you an adult. You don’t become an adult until you start producing more than you consume."
On that basis many Americans never become adults. Unfortunately, we don’t even expect it any more. It was with something like this in mind that our forefathers thought it was essential, even if they were famous and making most of their income from political activity, to be able to claim as a profession something in the free market. Daniel Webster, for example, was one of America’s most successful lawyers and a leader in the US Senate, but he always claimed to be a farmer. The same is true of his associates Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun.
Many Americans are eager to get on welfare roles in manner possible, partially, because they see themselves as performing a service by being consumers. Years ago when I was working as a volunteer employment specialist, a neighbor came to me asking me to help him apply for a job that had been listed. "That job is a government subsidized job that can only be given to someone who is handicapped," I informed him.
"I am handicapped." he responded.
"I’m sorry to hear that. I wasn’t aware of it. What’s your handicap?"
He responded so seriously that I didn’t dare laugh, but it took all my self-control not to. "I can’t spell", he said almost in tears. "You can’t imagine what a handicap that’s been to me."
That is an extreme example, but I am always amazed to see how eagerly people of my acquaintance claim handicapped status. I think it happens largely because it excuses them from the rigors of productive work and, after all, they are told repeatedly that what we really need in this country in this Keynesian age, is consumers. They qualify.
Rule III is, therefore, "I pay for what I consume with what I--or someone else--produces. The corollary is that except in very special circumstances if it is someone else, you never really grow up.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Personal Economics--Rule II

Personal Economics--Rule II
"The race is run by one and one and never by two and two."
"What is prudence in the conduct of every private family can scarce be folly in that of a great kingdom."
Adam Smith
The second rule stems from Adam Smith’s overall writing and is implied in the quote above. The rule is "whatever is right, true, correct, or moral for one person does not change if I add a person or a group of persons." This is the rule that divides economists. Most economists, when acting as economists and not as politicians or political yea-sayers will acknowledge rule I, i.e. judge others who you wish to deal with by their works and not in some other way, but rule II divides economists who are collectivists e. g. Keynesians, Marxists, etc from individuals e.g. Austrians and monetarist. It was a shock to me as a freshman when I read in the introduction to my Econ 101 text (Samuelson 5th ed.) That actions which are right and proper for individuals would be disastrous for the nation. Among the examples are the so-called "paradox of thrift", i. e. being frugal is a good thing for the individual, but collectivists believe it is diastrous for the nation as a whole. Because that belief is tied in with rule III to be discussed in the next essay I will chose an example directly from Adam Smith’s work.
Supposing that I work for a hardware store and my neighbor works for a grocery store. I approach my neighbor and say, "I have been checking the store receipts and I discover that I spent over 2000 dollars in your grocery store last year but you only spent about 200 dollars in my hardware store. This is an unforgiveable imbalance of trade. Unless you start spending more in my hardware store, I’m going to have the sheriff start confiscating your stuff to even out the difference so that the trade between us can be more balanced." If I actually went to my neighbor and said that, my neighbor would not be the only person who thought I was nuts.
We do not even carry on in that way about trade between cities. If the mayor of Provo called up the mayor of Salt Lake City and complained that the residents of Salt Lake only spent ten thousand dollars in Provo while the residents of Provo spent more than ten times that amount in Salt Lake and this is a wrong that I am going to call on the govenor to correct by increased taxation on the residents of Salt Lake. When we get to the state level we begin to see actions that approach this, and at the national level, of course, it becomes rampant with tariffs, import restrictions, and numerous other laws and regulations to address the "imbalance of trade".
In a hundred, probably a thousand, ways, we feel that an action that would appear wrong, even represhensible in some cases, as an individual is perfectly ok if we are part of a group that says the action is right. For another example, if I think I deserve a raise so I refuse to work until I get it, I would probably be severly reprimanded if I beat up or maimed anyone who showed up at my work to replace me, but if a union does that it is ok.
Because of this attitude we have replaced our sense of absolute morality with a statistical sense of morality. We recognize the immorality of an individual robbing another because he is convinced that the person he robs "is better off than I am". But we think nothing of forcing everyone who earns $40,000 a year to help out those who earn $20,000 or less. We begin to decide in some sort of statistic who is rich and who is poor and those statistics are used to decide who should be forced to help whom.
On a personal level the rule simply reauires that we ask outself when acting as part of a group, "would I do this if I were acting alone?" If the answer is "no", you can be pretty sure that what you are doing is wrong

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Personal Economics--Rule I

"‘Ye heve read, ye have heard, ye have thought,’ he said, ‘and the tale has yet to run:
"By the love of the body that once ye had, give answer--what ha’ ye done?’"

"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, and the baker that we expect our dinner, but from the regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities but of their advantages."
Adam Smith

The first rule of personal economics is derived from the work of Adam Smith. It is a rule of classical economics and is imbedded in much of his writings including the famous quote above. It is important to remember again that Adam Smith was a professor of Moral Philosophy. He believed that what was right was also, in the long run, at least, also what was smart. He is saying here that in the ordinary transactions of life, we do not judge men by their intentions or their thoughts or their hopes or anything else. We judge men the way God judges us--by their works. He does not say that we should do this, he says that in a free and reasonable society that is how we do judge them. When was the last time you were standing in line at the grocery store and the man in front of you held up a loaf of bread and said to the clerk, "If you can prove to me that the man who grew the wheat that went into this bread, the man who milled the wheat, the man who baked the flour, the man who packaged the bread and the man who delivered it to your store were all good Presbyterians, I will buy this loaf of bread."? We would probably think a man who said that was crazy. In the most peaceful interactions we have with others, that is how we do judge them. The reason for this is that most reasonable men in a free society recognize that it is simple justice to be judged by their works. This is the first rule of personal economics--"Judge others the way God judges you, by their works".
Unfortunately, while few of us wish to be judged personally by our works. We wish to be judged by our intentions or our nationality or our ancestry or in some other way that gives us an advantage over others. Politicians frequently play on this desire and try to get us to judge others in almost any way other than their works.
A favorite example of mine stems from a series of ads done by the comedian, Bob Hope, when I was a teen-ager. Because he frequently entertained American troops, he was known as a kind of super-patriot, so the American Ladies Garment Union hired him to do a series of ads for them. The gist of the ads was that when buying a garment i.e. a shirt, a dress, a tie, a pair of slacks, etc., you should not judge the person, or his garment, by his works, i.e. the quality or price of garment. That should be a secondary consideration. Before everything else, you should "look for the union label". If you do that, you can be sure that the person making your garment did not make it in their garage or basement. Union officials usually refer to people who make things in such places as "working in a sweat shop". You can also know that the person making the garment was a genuine American, or, at least, was working in America. You could have the comfort of knowing that the person making your garment was not living in Asia or South America or Europe or some other place where foreigners live. Finally, you could know that your garment--and this is probably most important of all--was not made by a man.
In Adam Smith’s day, feudalism was disappearing, but one aspect of it remained--what was called Mercantilism. The Mercantilists were very suspicious of foreigners. They should not be traded with. By sending goods to a country they were very sneakily trying to get gold out of the country. They were creating an "inbalance of trade" and trying to destroy a country’s wealth, i.e. its gold reserves. Adam Smith was simply saying we should judge the man across the river, or channel, or mountain range who happens to speak a different language, the way we judge the man next door or the man who runs the local bakery--by his works.
Rule I simply says that we don’t judge a man by his attitude, his nationality, his religion, his outlook, we judge him by his works.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Personal econ--natural law--Adam Smith

Personal economics--Natural law--Adam Smith
Newton convinced us forever that the interactions between particles are governed by natural law. The man most responsible for convincing intellectuals, at least, that there is a possibility that interactions between individuals is also governed by natural law is Adam Smith. Of course, scripture has always told us that interactions between people is governed by law, but many do not believe in scripture; therefore, Adam Smith’s contribution is mighty.
Adam Smith was a professor of moral philosophy in Scotland. Effectively that meant that his job was to teach young men, many, if not most, of whom were planning for careers in the ministry, that living by the Christian moral code is not only the good thing to do, but also that it is also the smart thing to do. He wrote a book outlining his ideas on the subject that was an enormous "hit" with the intellectuals of Europe. People rather liked books on morality and ethics in those days.
His book made such a big impression that an English noble decided that he, Adam Smith, was the best man he could hire to take his son and his ward on what was then called "The grand tour" of Europe. So Adam Smith went all over Europe with his young students in tow. And everywhere they went, they met with intellectuals who were eager to meet the author of "The Theory of Moral Sentiments". For his part, Adam Smith became convinced that there were good people in every country and, therefore, the precepts of Christian morality should be applied across national boundaries. Of course, he knew that if he wrote a book expressing this idea in the same way that it was expressed in his first book, that it would be so much waste paper. So he decided, I believe, to write a book rather like Newton’s, that is, one relying heavily on data and mathematical analysis.
In doing this, Adam Smith effectively founded the social science of economics. Most economists essentially follow his method, that is, they collect data and analyze it using logic and mathematics, and from that analysis draw conclusions. But while most economists follow his methods, most also disagree radically with his conclusions, something we will explore in coming blogs.
His achievement was remarkable. He showed that gold and wealth are not synonymous. He demonstrated that a free economy is not a "zero sum" society, i. e. one man’s gain is not another man’s expense. He made clear that "getting along" is a major key to wealth, because it allows each man to do what he does best and, depend on others to do likewise. This is in fact a major key to wealth. The other key is that thrift and saving allow men to get better and better tools; hence, increasing their productivity and ultimately, their material well-being.
He concluded from all this that men’s long term interests are in harmony. He believed in a system of natural liberty for all men and that such a system would greatly multiply their wealth. Finally, he believed that ordinary individuals could be trusted to manage their own affairs as long as they did not infringe on the rights of others.
The first famous person to use Adam Smith’s methods and quote his work, but who disagreed radically with his conclusions, was Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton believed strongly that ordinary men are incapable of being trusted with their own affairs and hence, must be directed, even controlled, by their superiors.
I believe that Adam Smith’s insights and those who followed him with similar beliefs can be very helpful to us as individuals to understand and even to live by the natural law. We will explore some of the ways in future blogs.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Personal econ--Natural law, Newton

Personal Econ--Natural Law, Newton
Isaac Newton gave us modern science. He took the work of his forerunners, Galileo and Kepler, stripped them of their sarcasm and mysticism, respectively, added his own remarkable insight, and gave us the book that launched modern science. At the end of his book, he adds a postscript in which he explains his motivation. There were problems with the theory of vortices--the theory with which Des Carte had attempted to explain the universe. The problems, Newton claimed, stemmed more from Des Carte’s philosophy than from his science or his mathematics. He failed to recognize that God is a governor and, as such is interested in the affairs of those over whom he has governance.
The French, predictably, did not care for Newton’s explanation. After all, the French and the English did not get along. Rather than admit that their objections were political, they attempted, as is so often the case, to show that Newton’s work was unscientific. Newton, they claimed had the universe held together by a "perpetual miracle". The "miracle" was the "action at a distant" force, gravity. We no longer consider "action at a distance" miraculous, because, it is necessary to our understanding of science. Einstein was able, in a way, to eliminate the Newtonian miracle, but his efforts to do so with the similar miracle of Gauss, Faraday, and Maxwell was not so successful.
In my history of science class, our teacher referred to Des Cartes theory, admittedly, somewhat derisively as "the whirlpool theory". It is my conviction that when we attempt to eliminate God as a governor, we wind up with a lot of "whirlpool-like" theories, i. e. theories that sound plausible enough but when applied the results are most unsatisfactory. This is particularly true in the field of economics.
It was, in my opinion, Adam Smith’s belief that interpersonal relationships between men was subject to law, what we call natural law, in the same way that the relationship of physical matter is subject to law. In writing "the Wealth of Nations" , he attempted to explicate some of those laws.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Personal Economics--Natural Law--I

Personal Economics--Natural Law
I have decided that for the next little while, I will explore the uses of economics in our personal lives, beginning with a discussion of natural law.
My boss often says that he hates stupid people. When exploring his meaning I have discovered that what he really means is that he is annoyed when people who do things that are important to him differently than he would do them. This leads to an intriguing question, "Is there always one right way to do things?" More important, "Is there a best way to behave?" The answer to both questions touches, I believe, on the question of natural law.
Of course, most men believe in natural law governing physical phenomena, that is, they acknowledge the absolute "law governing thing", but as soon as we seek out the "law governing man" there is a wide spread divergence.
Our fore-fathers believed that in the Scripture they had found the rule book of life, i. e. the natural laws governing conduct were laid out. For the most part those rules are rather strict and have never been particularly popular. As Jesus said, the way is strait and only a few bother to travel it. Those who choose self-indulgence, can usually find an excuse in the fact that many of those who profess belief do not follow the rules themselves. Or they may choose to be disbelievers. With the exceptions outlined later, disbelief itself is a form of self-indulgence, since it allows the disbeliever to pick and choose his rules, since there is no way that rules of human conduct can be derived from those governing physical phenomena.
It is a personal conviction that all understanding of real law, helps us as individuals to overcome the temptation to self-indulgence. So I will be exploring the ideas of how an understanding of economics can help us in that way. But I begin, in the next installment by looking first at a natural law philosopher who, I believe, was an important inspiration to the father of economics, Adam Smith, namely Isaac Newton.

Friday, May 29, 2009

My Church Basketball Career

Some years ago I wrote this as a speech and offered to give it in church "if they were really desperate" and needed a long speech. No one has ever been that desperate.
My Church Basketball Career
My initial Church basketball career was very short.
As a young man growing up in the Church, I was blessed to be a part of a very active youth program. Our leaders were dedicated and saw to it that we had many opportunities to participate in all kinds of activities. I was the student body president of our high school, and so was active at school, but far and away my fondest memories are of the many activities at Church. Music, drama, speech, writing, and, or course, sports, were all on a busy agenda. Although very active in every thing else, I didn’t participate in the sports program, mostly because I had, as a young boy never developed the skills necessary for the games.
Sensing, perhaps, that I may have felt left out, the ward athletic director approached me at the beginning of basketball season one year and told me that if I would come out to the games and suit up that he would see to it that I got to play. Excited, I reported for the next game. True to his word, he put me in for about 10 minutes at the end of the game. Even more excited, I reported again for the next game. Apparently, too much was riding on the game for him to risk even a few minutes of my caliber of play, so I sat out the entire game. Much less excited, I reported again for the next game, with the same result as the previous game. Too proud to risk the same result one more time, I quit coming.
Do I resent what happened? In hind sight, at least, not at all. I made no real effort to become a more effective basketball player. I never went to practices, nor did I attempt to improve my skills on my own. In a sense, I was really hoping for the reward of recognition with little or no effort and I realized, even at the time, the small humiliation involved in the experience was a good thing. For one thing, it taught me that if I wanted to receive recognition, I needed to merit it. I also decided that sports was not an area into which I was willing to put my efforts, and I concluded that my basketball career, brief as it was, was over.
Years--a mission, a college education, and a stint in the army--later found me in a Singles Ward in the Avenues area of Salt Lake City. I was sitting peacefully in Priesthood meeting, contemplating the wonders of eternal bliss, when a counselor (I was the other) in the Elder’s Quorum Presidency, Mark Anderson, announced that he was passing around a sign-up sheet for basketball. He said it with a grin, because in the two years I had been in that ward, no one had ever signed up for any sport. We were not a very athletically inclined group. But, of course, at the beginning of every season, we would dutifully pass around a sign-up sheet, because--well, I’m not sure why we did it--I suspect that we sort of somehow, someway, felt we were supposed to.
We were well into our lesson that day, detailing I’m sure, some duty incumbent upon us to achieve the aforementioned eternal bliss--most likely, home teaching--a rather frequent topic in that particular ward, since each of us who were active had between 15 and 20 people assigned to us to visit--as I said, were well into the lesson, when all of sudden from the back of the room heard--without his having been called on or anything--a roar sounding something like,"hey, what is this! Nobody has signed up for the basketball team."
Mark quickly jumped to his feet and explained, "We’ve never had a team. We’re simply no interested in sports."
The man responsible for the disturbance also jumped to his feet. I recognized him as a new-comer to the ward, so new, in fact, the he didn’t even have a home teaching beat--which, in that ward meant that he had probably come for the first time the week before. He waved the blank basketball list--wildly, I thought--and threatened, "If we don’t have a basketball team, I’m going to stop coming to this ward."
My own thoughts at that moment were, as I remember them, "although it would be nice to have had you stay and help with the home teaching, it is obvious that we are incompatible, so I can only hope, in all charity, that you can find some other place to contemplate eternal bliss. Depart in peace."
Just as I was thinking these most charitable thoughts, I was handed a note saying, "There will be an emergency meeting of the Elder’s Quorum Presidency immediately after church."
I suspected, as I walked into the little room where we held our presidency meetings, that this was not one of those meetings where I would be asked for counsel, and I was right. The president, Joe Harris, was very to the point. We needed this brother in our ward, he declared in no uncertain terms, and if it required a basketball team to keep him there, then we were going to have a basketball team. "How can we have a basketball team?’ I demanded to know. "Nobody want to play basketball."
"We are going to have a basketball team," President Harris continued unflinchingly, "because everyone in this room has just received an official Church calling from his Elder’s Quorum President to be on the ward basketball team. Here’s the schedule."
And so we had a basketball team and I can look back on a Church basketball career that lasted one entire season. Of course, I was not planning on it lasting one entire season. Unlike my first time, I never went to the game excited--not the first game, not the last, not any in--between. But, unlike the first time, I got to play in every game--every minute of every game. It turns out that of the four of us forced--that is "called"--to play, myself, Mark, Joe and Doug Anderson, I was the tallest at under 6', which proved to be a bit of a handicap since, it turns out that in basketball, having tall players is an advantage. Of course, I personally do not think that the height disadvantage would have hurt us all that much if any of us could have dribbled or shot the ball. To make matters worse, it turns out that the other wards in our stake took basketball very very seriously. Most of the other ward teams had players who had recently played on the varsity teams for BYU or the UofU. None of the teams other than ours had any players that I ever met who had not at least been first string high school players. So, as you might suspect, we did not fare well, score wise, at least. The only person who really had developed the basic basketball skills was the newcomer--whose name I forget. I forget his name because after the first very sound defeat, we never saw him again. I’m not sure he moved, but I am sure he moved on.
Then why did we continue playing? Because--as so often happens in this lone and dreary world where weeds grow everywhere and bliss never lingers eternally--someone else moved into our ward who wanted to play ball. At our second game Glenn Fenn showed up. Glenn, at 6' 4", took over my place at center, and I took over the spot of the newcomer--who, as mentioned, had ceased to come. Glenn was a really good ball player and to this day I admire his sportsmanship. He seemed happy just to be playing, even though it meant playing on a team that counted it a victory if they lost by only 40 points.
And for all the fun I make of that experience, it really was a very unpleasant one for me. I really don’t know how Glenn felt, or for that matter how Mark or Doug or even Joe felt. For my part, losing never bothered me, not for a minute. After all, I was there because I was told to be. What really bothered me, what bothers me still, was the violence. Of course, the hurts and the bruises have long since healed. Fortunately, they were never very serious, even at the time, but they were deeply resented.
The problem was that, with all our disadvantages, we had one very important advantage--we were, all of us, in excellent physical condition. For my part, I swam a mile almost every day; the others on the team either did that or ran for several miles. Our opponents were, for the most part, in poor physical condition, at least in the sense, that they were out of shape.
The result was that our games, which I can at this distance view philosophically, took on an interesting but unpleasant patter. Always it became quickly apparent in a game that we were not here dealing with a real contest. Usually, within minutes, we were as many as twenty points behind. In the early part of the game, our opponents were courteous to a fault. If there was a hit or other physical violation, they generally apologized. But as the game wore on things changed. For one thing, the difference in the score began to narrow. This occurred initially because the opposing team relaxed after they had a very comfortable margin, but as they became tired, we began to get points simply because we had more stamina (and also, because we did, after all, have one player who could actually play).
It was usually at this point that the game became, in my opinion, violent. I, or one of my teammates, would run down the court with the ball. One of the opponents would come behind, and , unable to block the ball fairly, would simply strike, or shove, or even kick the man with the ball. Of course, the first few times this happened, the offender was punished with a foul, but then the thing occurred which I found, and still find, most offensive of all.
The official in our games was chosen from the young men, usually a volunteer who had just completed a game in the junior team games which preceded our own. Early in the game his decisions were treated with respect, but as the game wore on and the players became tired, they were not. In the latter part of the game, as a team member found himself being called for a foul, he would often yell, sometimes even swear at, and on a few occasions, even threaten, the official. After that happened, the young man would essentially retreat from the game. He would stay on the floor, but it was fairly clear to everyone that they were free to do as they chose.
By the end of the game, frequently I felt like I had been beaten up. Fortunately, the one thing the official always retained the courage to do was to blow the final whistle. As we would change our clothes in the dressing room after the game, I can remember feeling deep resentment toward many of those who, in my opinion, at least, had been so brutal.. I’m sorry to say that on more than one occasion, my resentment got the best of me. On a member of the opposing team attempted an apology, "I guess things got a little rough out there and I got carried away," he said. I’m afraid that my own resentment boiled over at that point. I’m sure he expected me to say, "that’s O.K., its only a game" or some such. What I actually said was "They did, and you did." He walked away obviously a little miffed.
Their lack of discipline on the court, I am sorry to say, led to a lack of discipline on my part at stake meetings, where I would encounter these brethren in their official Church capacities, and occasionally as these men were called on to speak or otherwise give instructions, I would find myself asking, "How can you speak of love and compassion now and yet be so brutal on the basketball court?"
This was, of course, years ago and I had all but forgotten about it until recently when, in bishopric meeting, it was reported that a member of the High Council had gotten into a very nasty fight during a basketball game. Apparently, such fighting is common, but the Stake President was a little disappointed that a member of the High Council would be involved.
I have asked myself, why men act in a manner so obviously contrary to all that they profess and admonish. As I expressed this question to some of my fellows they have simply responded, "You, being not interested in sports, do not understand." That is probably true. My Bishop told me about being deliberately hit with a baseball bat during a fight after a Church baseball game. He laughed about it and said, "That’s just the way it is in sports. People sometimes get carried away." While I probably don’t understand everything about it, I do understand enough to know that to all a game to become violent in even the slightest degree, to lose one’s self control, is wrong.
I sometimes regret not having been involved with sports, because the discipline of sports is, I recognize, extremely important. We are often told that next to religion it is the most important discipline, particularly in the life of youth. But there is a vast difference in the two as disciplines. The apostle Paul outlined the difference best, I believe, in his comment in Corinthians, about those who participate in athletics, "they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible." (Icor. 9:25) The only real reason for participating in athletics at all, in my opinion, is to develop the discipline of living by rules when the competition is terribly, terribly intense, but the stakes are very very low. The crown is, as Paul said, "corruptible". In his day it was a laurel wreath which would last for a few weeks. It is probably with this in mind that he made his famous comment, "Bodily exercise profiteth little" (I Tim. 4:8) He certainly did not mean that we should "let our bodies go", so to speak, because in the Corinthians passage, he tells us that he feels that his very salvation dpends upon keeping his body in subjection.
In religion, in almost complete contrast to sports, the stakes are very very, almost infinitely, high, but there is little if any intensity of competition or urgency. Those who can exercise discipline when there is great intensity but almost nothing at stake--or at least, nothing of any value, are better prepared, we are told, to exercise discipline when there is something of value at stake but the intensity of feeling is lower.
But of the competition in my basketball games, it could be said, not only was there little at stake, there was absolutely nothing at stake, not even a game. All that could be said to be at stake at all was a little momentary glory, a vain imagination. I have decided the real problem was that those men had ceased to be what they saw themselves as being and they were unwilling to pay the price to really become what they wanted to be, so they simply made up the difference by taking a shortcut. As so often happens in the world, that shortcut involved violence and the breaking of the rules. It was excused with the feeling that "this is only a game and, therefore, this time doesn’t count.
The testimony of scripture is that ever conscious moment counts. Eternity hangs on every moment. If we are willing to take shortcut, to compromise values, when only a bit of vainglory is at stake, what will we do when we perceive our livelihood, our basic needs, our standing in the community, our respectability are at stake? I suspect that we will find ourselves more and more saying, "this time doesn’t count." We will make exceptions for not only "only a game" but the vacation, a trip, a time of stress, "I’m out of work", "he made me mad", until the exceptions encompass life.
When the imagination runs too far away from the reality, we say a man has gone insane--he thinks he is something that he does not even closely resemble. Fortunately, this is rare. Less rare is the case in which the vain imagination, nurtured while neglecting the subjection of the body, leads to actions that a labeled immoral or irresponsible--a sort of temporary insanity. But most often those kinds of actions begin with actions that we simply label as "inappropriate" or even "inadequate". Many of the actions on the sports fields fall into this category.
My basketball career, I feel confident, is completely closed, but as I contemplate it I can’t help but feel that what I learned--the subjugation of the body and the "casting down of vain imaginations" are as important now as then. I feel that therein lies the key to peace--in life and even on the basketball court.

Monday, March 30, 2009

How I Became Student Body President of Pocatello High

When I was a sophomore at Pocatello (hereafter referred to as "Poky") High School, the student body president was Stan Spicer. Stan was that rare athlete who was not only good at athletics and, hence, popular, but also genuinely humble and, hence, even more popular. At the time the president of the United States was Dwight Eisenhower--a popular war hero. I mention this because in a way their positions were analogous, i. e. both were popular heros who proved to be well-liked and admired as politicians. If Stan Spicer was the Dwight Eisenhower of Poky High, then his vice president, Steve Pugmire, was the Richard Nixon--not only because he was the vice president, but because, like Nixon, he was a thoroughgoing politician. His whole extra-curricular focus was school politics, and he planned, as one would expect, to become one in real life after first getting a law degree.
Steve succeeded Stan as student body president, and his vice-president, Raymond Scheele, was cut out of the same mold as himself. He had, like Steve, been very active in school politics from the time he entered high school, and probably even at his junior high, and he planned to make a career out of politics. It was also assumed that he would succeed Steve as student body president. Indeed, it looked like we were in for a long run of career politicians as presidents.
The day that it was announced that nominating petitions for student body officers were due in a couple of days, I was walking from a class in the main building to one in the gym building when Nancy Robinson came up to me and said, "See this?’ She showed me a sheet of paper attached to a clip board. "This", she announced, not waiting for my response, probably realizing that since I had become to vain to wear my glasses, that there was no way I could see what it was anyway, "is a petition to run you for student body president. Several of us are out getting people to sign these petitions." I really don’t remember what I said. I’m sure it was something very profound, very wise, and, above all, very humble. Actually, what I probably said was, "you’re kidding, of course." But whatever I said, she assured me that I was being placed on several petitions to be the next student body president.
At this point, I think I should try to explain why anyone would even think of putting me up for student body president. Of course, whenever I would mention, as when I was in college I did on many occasions, that I had been student body president of Pocatello High School, everyone to whom I mentioned it assumed that what had happened was that the five or six members of the senior class gathered in a circle and someone passed out straws and the person with the longest straws became student body president, the person with the next longest became senior class president and so on until it got down to the person with shortest straw who became school mascot. But actually, it wasn’t like that at all. At that time there was, as I think I pointed out in a previous article, only one high school in Pocatello which was the second largest city in the state of Idaho. Now, although Boise was bigger, it had more than one high school, so we sere the largest in the entire state of Idaho. Now, of course, it being Idaho that was still no great shakes, but still we had too many people to decide school officers with a simple straw pull, at least two or three times too many. What I am saying is that you had to do something to distinguish yourself before you could expect to be chosen, or even be chosen by your friends, to be student body president. I did two things.
Well, actually, the first and most important thing I did, I didn’t do at all, my parents did. Of course, I am certainly not the first person, nor, I suspect, will I be the last, to ride into an important public office because of something his/her parents did. What my parents did was have my sister just one year after me, so she was a sophomore when I was a junior. She was in her own right, popular, and that helped, of course, but the thing that really put it over was that she was very outgoing. It used to bother me at times that she was so outgoing, because I sometimes thought it was a bit embarrassing, but, trust me, if you are thinking of running for a school office, or even if your friends are thinking of running you for that office, having a very outgoing sister just a year younger than you is an enormous asset. But even that would not have done the trick were it not for the fact that early in my junior year, dad had purchased a book entitled "Braude’s Book of Humor. Now it would be very helpful to this whole story if I could say that it was my idea, but since my sister is still around to set the record straight, I’m going to say that I’m not sure whose idea it was, but one of us got the idea to try out as joint MC’s for the school traveling assembly.
Now the person who chose the MC or MC’s for the traveling assembly was the choir teacher, Mr. Gabbard, which you might have thought would give me an advantage seeing as how I was in the choir. Unfortunately, I was a bass who every time the basses had to sing a note above middle C, which was quite often, I could only make it by going into falsetto and whenever I did that Mr. Gabbard would give me a stern look and rather often would add his lecture about singing from the midsection. "A bass who has to sing high should never strain his vocal cords, he should sing from his midsection. By the time choir is over every bass should be sweating because he has had to work his midsection so hard." Well, I never could figure the midsection thing out so I continued to get dirty looks.
The other problem was that the people trying out for MC were more popular than we were and many had had experience in that sort of thing. Nevertheless, Loni was undaunted and so we worked up a routine using jokes from Braude’s book and a few that I threw in from some old Archie and Jughead comic books, admittedly, pretty corny.
Well, at tryouts, I was as nervous as a cat. First, the Anderson twins--two very popular identical twin boys, got up and told a joke, that I thought was pretty funny and I couldn’t help but notice, so did Mr. Gabbard. The joke depended on the fact that they were identical in appearance. After telling the joke, they simply said that if they were chosen they would tell some more just like that, only even funnier.
After the Andersons, Fred Wynn tried out, but he didn’t even bother to have a joke, depending, I think on popularity and the fact that he had been in some plays. I can’t remember who else tried out, but we were last.
Admittedly, we were the best prepared--in two ways. First, we actually had a routine, and second, Loni had gotten several of her friends to come as a sort of cheering squad. It was the cheering squad that did the trick. After every joke they simply roared. Some of the jokes were so corny that they didn’t know when to roar, but they roared anyway--usually when we were only half-way through the joke. But you would have thought that we were the funniest thing to come along since Will Rogers, in fact, if an executive of CBS had been there, I suspect that he would have canceled Jack Benny’s contract and turned his show over to us.
The result was that we got the job. The further result was that I got what in advanced political circles is known as "exposure", which is very helpful; indeed, almost necessary if you want to run for an important political office.
But I would hate for anyone to think that I depended on the result entirely on my parents and sister. My own contribution, and, I believer, looking back, that it was substantial, came about because somewhere toward the end of my sophomore year I noticed the truth, first enunciated by Dorothy Parker, that girls seldom make passes at boys who were glasses. If the glasses are thick, which mine were, you can replace the "seldom" with "never", so I simply stopped wearing my glasses. This created another problem, however. I didn’t have a lot of friends, but I did have a few and those few became somewhat miffed when I passed them in the hall without so much as an acknowledgment that I knew them. This, of course, occurred because I couldn’t see them. To remedy this situation I simply started waving and saying "hi" to everyone in the hall. At first I thought I would be considered a nut because I was waving at people I didn’t even know, but I soon learned that most high school students are as socially insecure as I was and they didn’t mind at all being waved at, even by a stranger. So I became known as someone who was extremely friendly. Now if you want to be popular, especially with the "in" crowd, this is no asset, but if you want to run for an office, it is.
Now the result of all of this was that, of the five or six candidates in the primary, Ray Scheele and I made the finals. Of course, you are probably thinking, having made the finals, I was faced with having to give a campaign speech. Actually, by this time in my life, I was pretty comfortable doing public speaking. The real problem was that it is sort of expected in a campaign speech that you will make promises about what you will do. My quandary was, not having the foggiest notion of what the student body president, or anyone else in student government for that matter, was supposed to do, I had not a clue as to what I should, or could, reasonably promise to do. I solved this rather sticky dilemma by again referring to Braude’s book, selecting four or five of what I considered his best jokes that Loni and I had not already used in our MC routine, and using that as my speech, concluding with the promise that I would do my best to do whatever I did do. I was very careful to leave out any reference to intellectuality or making any promises about doing my best to be intelligent, which I had learned from previous experience, is more or less like promising to bring the spinach to the party--it simply doesn’t put you at the top of list, which, of course, if you are running for an office is where you want to be.
Well, as you might expect, Ray Scheele gave a wonderful talk outlining all of the things that he planned to do and I, well I described my talk above. I was very impressed with Ray’s talk and as I remember, I voted for him myself and almost everyone in my class did likewise. However, I won the election, the reason being that Loni got almost everyone in her class, in spite of my talk, to vote for me, and the seniors, who probably should not have been allowed to vote at all, also voted for me, probably reasoning that they appreciated my jokes, and since they wouldn’t be around to appreciate Ray’s program decided to vote for something they could appreciate.
Ray was elected Senior Class President in the class elections in the fall. As might be expected I did not make a very good student body president. Fortunately, the discontent over my poor performance did not spill over into actual physical violence. It may have, however, at the class graduation banquet where I was to give a speech. I do not think the thing would have come to actual bodily harm, but I think that a few of the more malcontents were preparing themselves with over-ripe tomatoes and rotten eggs, but, as luck would have it, the morning of the banquet I was thrown from a horse which left me with such a severe limp that even the malcontents felt sorry for me. However, on the occasion of the 10 year reunion, I no longer had access to horses, and I suspected that even if I had, the years of anticipation of some kind of reprisal, might make even getting thrown again from a horse of little avail. So even though I was in town, I decided to let prudence be the better part of valor, and skip the reunion. After all, Pocatello High had some pretty big bruisers when I went there.
I really don’t remember why I missed the twenty year reunion. By that time I was finally married, but just, so I may have been thinking that, although I hoped Shauna (my wife) didn’t marry me only because I had been student body president, I probably decided that just in case, it might be better to let the thing go by rather than have her find out I had muffed it. I did, however, fully intend to be at the 30 year reunion, but it turns out our family had a reunion at the same time, and by that time I had, not only a wife, but several children, all of whom, including the wife, voted for the family, as opposed to the class, reunion.
But at the 40th reunion, I was there. Ray Scheele was there also and when he saw me, he came up and we embraced. After all those years, all was forgiven, but he did say, "How come you never come to the reunions?" He then just laughed.
When I think back on the experience, I sometimes feel that it was a good thing I was elected after all. At the end of the year, Mrs. Rice, who was the student government advisor told me that I had been one of her very favorite student body presidents. Besides being the advisor to student government, she also taught government classes, and like most who do, she was a liberal who believed as most of them do, in the adage, "That government governs best that governs most." But interestingly enough, where student government was concerned, she outdid even Thomas Jefferson, believing essentially that. "student government governs best that governs not at all". Which explains why I was such a favorite. Had Ray Scheele, on the other hand been elected, who knows what might have happened. Ray went on to get his doctorate and teach political science at Ball State University, and like most political science professors, he was caste very much in the "governs most" mode, but, unlike Mrs. Rice, he carried it over to student government, in fact, you could say he was--as concerns student government--in the "governs most, and then some" camp. I like to rationalize my own experience by reflecting on Calvin Coolidge--one of my favorite presidents--and his most famous saying, "The business of America’s student governments is nobody’s business."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My First Campaign

The First Campaign
I was just getting used to the switch from attending Jr. high (at Franklin Junior High) to attending High School (at the time about which I write everyone in Pocatello attended high school at Pocatello High School, the school board at that time not giving anyone much choice), when they announced that nominations for Sophomore class officers would have to be turned in the next day. I didn’t think that the announcement much concerned me since I was about the shyest kid in the class and had done nothing in the way of athletics or, for that matter, in anything else to distinguish myself. In my second or third class, however, my friend, Clark Bartley, came up to me and announced that he had turned in my name to run for the representative from the class to serve in the school Senate. "Why on earth did you do that?", I asked wondering whether to be piqued or flattered. "I don’t know anything about school politics and there is no way I could get elected."
"What this school needs," Clark explained, "is more intellectuals in student government. Now I have a plan that will get you elected. All you have to do is get past the primary and I will write a speech for you that will knock the socks off the kids in the class. After you give your campaign speech, they will never vote for anyone but an intellectual again."
"Speech," I protested, "you mean I have to give a speech? Forget it!"
"Well, of course, if you get past the primary, you have to give a speech. I’m counting on that to get you elected."
"Well," I said (and I said it very emphatically), "you can forget the whole thing. I am not giving any speech. I hate it when I have to speak in Sunday School, and I wouldn’t do it then if Mom or Loni (my sister) didn’t write them out for me. I just read them, but I am not going to get up in front of the entire Sophomore class and make a fool of myself reading a speech."
"Well, if you feel that way about it," Clark reassured me, "I’ll give your campaign speech for you. Since I’m your campaign manager anyway, I’m sure they won’t mind. Most of the time the actual campaign speeches are given by the campaign managers. They actually write all the speeches but sometimes the candidate gives one or two in the course of the campaign when he has had time to memorize the speech the campaign manager has written for him, but we don’t have time for than. I’ll give the speech."
"Are you sure that is going to be OK?" I demanded skeptically.
"Oh sure. In junior high things are different, but in high school most of the speeches are given by campaign managers, just like in the real world."
Reluctantly, I agreed to go along with this arrangement, mostly, I think because I was pretty sure I would never get past the primary. I mean, besides Clark and a few other close friends, nobody even knew who I was.
At this point I think I should explain how Clark came to think of me as an intellectual in the first place. Of course, there were the glasses, but they didn’t impress Clark. What actually happened was a few months earlier I had accompanied him to the college where he took his private tutoring lessons in calculus from a professor known as "Captain Brown". I sat outside Captain Brown’s office and read while Clark took his lesson. After the lesson Clark and the Captain came out and the Captain (he was retired military) asked Clark to introduce his friend. "Oh, this is my friend< Merrill." Then he added, "He’s none to bright--especially in math."
"Well math isn’t’ everything. What are you reading, Merrill?"
I proudly displayed my book, "The Three Musketeers", I replied. I say proudly, because normally I would have been reading the Hardy Boys, but I felt since I would be at the University I should have something at a little higher literary level
"That’s one of my favorite books!" Captain Brown exclaimed (I later found out that he had donated a large collection of Alexandre Dumas novels to the University library). "Your friend is as intelligent in literature as you are in math, Clark, and I’m not sure I would put one above the other." With this compliment I moved up considerably on the intellectual scale--at least in Clark’s eyes.
Two days later, at the beginning of home room, which for me was PE, the principal announced that Sophomores would be voting for class officers during home room and that our teachers would be writing the names of the candidates on the board and we were to make our choices on our own paper and turn in the "ballots". The teachers were to tally the results and turn them into the office. My PE class, which consisted of about 70 or 80 boys, was team taught by Wally Kelly and Ernie Sheurman. Mr. Sheurman had been the star of the local semi-pro baseball team a few years earlier, but had retired to teaching. I had actually seen him hit a home run during the one game to which my father had taken me as a boy. He was quiet, but firm and a wonderful teacher. Mr. Kelly, on the other hand, was very outspoken, and usually took charge of the class until we got into the actual activities. We called him "General No-Toes" because as a soldier in the Korean war the toes on one foot had become frostbitten and had to be amputated. On hearing the announcement of the election, he merely muttered, "Oh H---"(which was a no-no back then, but a no-no that he committed fairly often), "Mr. Sheurman will take care of that when he gets back from the equipment room."
Mr. Sheurman, probably oblivious to his newly delegated responsibility, went on with class as normal until toward the end of the period a boy walked up to him and said, "They sent me from the office to get your election results. You are the only class that hasn’t turned them in."
"Wally," he muttered, "I thought you were going to take care of that."
"Oh D---"(another no-no), "I completely forgot. I’ll do it now." He read off the list of candidates for class president. "Any of those guys in this class?" No one raised their hands. "Anyone know any of them?" A couple of boys named a friend. "Alright," the General barked, "who wants this kid’s friend for class president?’ Several hands went up. He quickly counted them. "I’ll assume that the rest of you want the other guy’s friend for class president." He went through the other officers in similar manner. It became clear that we actually only had the choice between the two candidates (usually of about 5 or six) that were known to someone in our class. Finally he came to the contest for senator. He read the list and as before barked out, "Any of those guys in this class"" Hesitantly, I raised my hand. "Oh good, finally a candidate in our class. What’s your name." I told him. "Anyone in this class who doesn’t want his fellow classmate, Merrill Gee, for class senator?" he asked with a note of defiance. No one raised their hand. "Glad to see your spirit of class loyalty." Having thus given us our opportunity to participate in democracy in action, the General dismissed the class.
At the first of the next period the winners in the primary were announced and I was relieved that I was not among their number. However, at the end of the second period the loudspeaker again came on. "Some of the results came in late. The late results did not alter the line-up of candidates in any of the races except for class senator. Merrill Gee will be added to the list of candidates for class senator. We will simply add his name and there will be an extra candidate in that race in the final election." The people, exercising there freedom to vote as they chose, had spoken. I was to be a candidate after all.
Needless to say I was very nervous. The whole "campaign manager bit" sounded a bit fishy to me, but Clark assured me that it would be OK. All I would need to do would be to stand by the podium while he delivered his speech, which, he felt, would make William Jennings Bryan’s fabled Cross of Gold speech sound hollow. After that speech, Clark assured me, my election was a sure thing and with an intellectual senator the school would finally be in good hands and the rousing success of our school year would be assured.
I was still nervous. I went home a stood in front of the mirror trying to look as intellectual as possible. I had to admit that without the glasses there was absolutely no hope. Fortunately, my father, always one with a sharp eye for a bargain, had purchased the glasses with the cheapest frames and I had to admit, even though I hated the glasses myself, that they definitely looked like a pair of glasses that Socrates or Aristotle would have worn if they had been around to wear them.
Two days later I stood along with all the other candidates off stage preparing for our respective entrances. I was somewhat less nervous than the others, because, of course, Clark was there to give my speech for me, but I was still pretty nervous wondering if I could look as intellectual as the situation required. Mr. Gooch, the school counselor, always cheerful and encouraging, read off the list of candidates and had each hold up his hand when his name was called. Having completed the list he turned to Clark, "And who, pray tell, are you?"
"Oh, I’m Merrill’s campaign manager. I’m going to give his speech."
"Campaign manager? Whoever heard of a campaign manager in a school election? No one is going to give someone else’s speech."
"But he’s not prepared. That’s not fair."
"That’s true," I agreed vehemently, "I’m not and it will be terrible if I have to speak."
"Nonsense," Mr. Gooch said, trying to be stern and yet encouraging, but obviously amused, "you’ll do just fine. Now I don’t want to hear any more about someone else giving someone else’s speech and that’s final!" With that Clark sat down on the floor obviously dejected.
When it was my turn to speak I stepped out, shaking. "If I’m elected," I promised in a tremulous tone of voice, "I will do my very best to do my best." With that I realized that I had said all I had to say--and then some, but remembering Clark, I added, "What this school needs is more intellectuals in student government. There is a definite lack of the intellectual element in our student legislature. If I am elected, therefore, I promise I will try to be as intelligent as possible. Thank you." With that I bowed and dashed off-stage. I hardly dared look at Clark.
"See, just as I said, your friend did a great job, " Mr. Gooch said to Clark as we all headed back to class.
Anyone reading this sketch, will hardly be surprised to hear that, as is so often the case in American political life, the intellectual candidate in that election went down to a crushing defeat.