Friday, August 24, 2012

In the child, the man

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. - Proverbs 22:6

Arthur Schopenhauer, the philosopher observed that
…the experiences and illuminations of childhood and early youth become in later life the types, standards and patterns of all subsequent knowledge and experience, or as it were, the categories according to which all later things are classified—not always consciously, however. And so it is that in our childhood years the foundation is laid of our later view of the world, and there with as well of its superficiality or depth: it will be in later years unfolded and fulfilled, not essentially changed.

My childhood years, one might think, might have led to someone very different from my current self, since I grew up in the household of a preacher and a very religious mother. On the surface, attending church events multiple times a week for the better part of two decades, participating or hearing prayers before every meal, and spending more than the average amount of time in the company of other preachers families, would seem to have oriented me towards a very religious-based life. However, it seems I was never hyper-religious, even as a schoolboy before I left for college.

Referring back to Schopenhauer's comments, I would agree that "in our childhood years the foundation is laid for our later view of the world" but once I critically look deeper at my upbringing, it makes it easier to understand my adult philosophy. First of all, my mother, while very religious, was also well-educated. If there was a conflict between a biblical verse and science, she always accepted science and religious dogma had to adapt. My father, in the meantime, was incredibly well-read, not only in theology, but also in philosophy, world history, and in general science. My parents did provide the customary encyclopedia in our house (at no small expense to their budget) and a steady supply of magazines including life, National Geographic, popular mechanics, and popular science, at least providing the opportunity to expand the depth and breath of my young mind.

So when you really look at my upbringing, it was clearly within a deeply religious environment, but also with the opportunity, or even the obligation, to open my mind, exercise rationalism, and go wherever it took me. This opportunity, and implied permission, to travel the journey with knowledge and rationalism as my map and guidepost was perhaps my parent's greatest gift.


I need to make one additional comment about the importance of "thinking" in my father's philosophy.  I have a copy of his Thesis, about the book of Job and titled "Job and the Moral Right to Think."  In the final pages he comments:

The evidence leads to the conclusion that God approved of Job, the independent thinker, and condemned Job's friends, who would hold to traditional ideas about God's dealings with man without subjecting them to honest intellectual inquiry." 


"Job teaches that true religion is more than a formal system of ideas, beliefs, or practices.  This was the prevalent conception of religion among Job's contemporaries:  religion involved an acceptance of the traditional beliefs and ideas and the practice of the customary ritual.  Religion for Job was an honest intellectual search for truth based on personal experience."

So, you see I come by it naturally.  (I wrote about my father more directly in a post from Oct 2010, The Rev John Lewis Floyd - A Green Minister?).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Who to vote against?

It is that time again; the presidential election is upon us,and I must decide who I will vote against. 

As usual, the media debate will be limited to major party politicians. The last time there was a real third choice, Ross Perot and Adm. James Stockdale were allowed to participate in the debates, and I thought it added great flavor to the election season, as these two people were totally unafraid to say exactly what they thought, and often demonstrated that the Emperor (the major candidates) had no clothes. In fact, it was so upsetting to the powers that be, that the League of Women Voters have excluded a third-party from participating in the debates ever since. 

the upcoming presidential election is, with the selection of Paul Ryan for vice president candidate, the first time in several decades where the country is presented clearly two choices;
1. Candidates who firmly believe the country is best served by substantial intervention by the federal government in the economy of the nation and, through taxation and redistribution of material resources, provide for the needs and happiness of the citizen general, or
2.  Candidates who find intervention in a free market, capitalistic society by the federal government to not only be intrusive but also counterproductive to the overall good of the citizen general.

As a third option, the Libertarian party always gets my interest, especially following an encounter with a middle or lower-level bureaucrat who has total control over some part of my life, and uses that power aggressively, and often without logic, either for fear of  straying from instructions from higher up, or simply to relish that small bit of power that they have been allowed one part of their life. The nexus of the Libertarian party with the Democrats tends to be in social issues, and the nexus of the Libertarian party with Republicans tends to be on (absence of) taxation issues. Of course, no one would want to live in a totally Libertarian state, anarchy is never attractive. a nice discussion. I found within a reasonably small book an excellent discussion of libertarianism a few years ago: What It Means to Be a Libertarian by Charles Murray.

So, putting the Libertarian option behind me, my choice comes down to the obvious; Democrat versus Republican; or acid is sometimes put "trickle up" economics versus "trickle down" economics. Among all of the economic philosophers from Aristotle, through Adam Smith, and Karl Marx, I think we are basically talking about the standoff between John Maynard Keynes and Frederick Hayek.

Keynes, a British economist publishing between the two world wars, proposed government economic intervention as necessary for citizens individually as well as the country as a whole.  Frederick Hayek, an Austrian, had been recruited by the London school of economics as a free-market economic theorist who would counter the rising popularity of Keynes at Oxford.  The economic debate began before, and extended through, the Great Depression and the rise of Nazi Germany, but the debate and the divide persist as strongly as ever today.  I read two books recently regarding economics first is Friedrich Hayek's original book, the Road to Serfdom, and the second is a more recent publication by Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky (a father-and-son/economist-and-philosopher combination) How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life.

A recently published a book by Kensian biographer and experts Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky (a father-and-son/economist-and-philosopher combination) How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life  is actually quite deep and not quickly read.  Their thesis is that free-market capitalism has permitted many countries to have a gross national product that can provide for the needs of all of its citizens, but that this was obtained with a Faustian agreement, as capitalism, as an economic philosophy, contains no ethics or morality inherently. The problem, as they see it, is that economic growth has become an (insatiable) end in itself, unrelated to any sense of what a good life might look like. In fact, the very idea of the good life has been so eliminated from public conversation that we are left floundering with a vague theory of happiness, a more definitive understanding proving insatiable and elusive.  we certainly have enough wealth to provide for the basic needs of everyone in the population, but the distribution of that wealth has become very asymmetrical, and the drive to accumulate more wealth has become insatiable, because there is no longer a link to the goods and services individuals require such as food, shelter, safety, health care, etc. This is perhaps best exhibited in the hedge fund and derivatives markets where the item of accumulation (a "share") is so far removed from any specific a good or service that it is meaningless as anything other than a marker for "success."  they point out that when you survey for "happiness" the societies that rank highest on the scale are those societies with the narrowest distribution of wealth, as long as the country is not sunk in overall poverty (most notably seen in the Scandinavian countries.)while they do not advocate socialism, collectivism, or central control of the economy, they certainly advocate for relatively high tax rates and central government actions that provide a minimal level of economic security for every citizen.  The book argues that progress should be measured not by the traditional yardsticks of growth or per capita incomes but by the seven elements of the good life: health; security; respect; personality; harmony with nature; friendship; and leisure.  They make a series of sensible suggestions for how the good life could be attained: a basic citizens income, an expenditure tax and curbs on advertising to rein in consumerism; a Tobin tax on financial transactions. It is a well-written book with lots of charts and data to support the arguments.

Frederick Hayek is no Ayn Rand, but does argue that allowing the central government to use taxes to redistribute money, either as cash payments or provision of free or subsidized services to the general citizenrys is a slippery slope. He regards the competition of free-marked capitalism as superior to Socialism, Communism, collectivism, etc. not only because in most circumstances it is the most efficient method known but because it is the only method which does not require the coercive or arbitrary intervention of authority.  His book also is not an easy read, and I am certainly not confident that I understood completely his thesis.  He argues that freedom is not provided by a state assuring economic success for everyone but by letting the power of capitalism have free reign.  "Who can seriously doubt that the power which a millionaire, who may be my employer, has over me is very much less than that which the smallest bureaucrat possesses who wields the coercive power of the state and on whose discretion it depends how I am allowed to live and work?"  Actually, Hayek does not argue that the state has no obligation to providea minimum level of assistance.  "But there are two kinds of security: the certainty of a given minimum of sustenance for all and the security of a given standard of life, of the relative position which one person or group enjoys compared with others. There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth ours has, the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom; that is: some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health. Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision."  Furthermore he states, "The successful use of competition does not preclude some types of government interference. For instance, to limit working hours, to require certain sanitary arrangements, to provide an extensive system of social services is fully compatible with the preservation of competition."   However, were Hayek alive today, he no doubt would point to the current economic crisis in Greece and other Western European countries as prime examples of the danger inherent in government income redistribution.  

 As I stated at the beginning, I'm left pretty much with a decision as to who I vote against.

I will not vote Libertarian, since, among other things, the Libertarian candidate while strongly upholding rights of the individual to be free from government control, also considers a fetus to have "personhood" and would use the power of the government to prevent a pregnant woman from undergoing abortion.  To me, this denies the individual rights of the pregnant mother and refutes the whole basis of libertarianism.

Mitt Romney Paul Ryan are I believe most likely to advance the gross domestic product of our country, but I think they are also most likely to aggravate the asymmetrical distribution of income between the common citizen and the rich. We already are in danger of becoming a plutocracy, and I think their philosophy of unrestrained capitalism will accelerate this process. If, eventually, the wealthy few possess the vast majority the nation's wealth, revolution in some form will be inevitable. I also think some of their ideas are flawed. Take health care for example. The Ryan plan is to replace Medicare, Medicaid, etc. with a voucher program, giving each individual a certain amount of credit to take to the marketplace and purchase health insurance. This will leave many people inadequately insured or completely uninsured, since it does absolutely nothing to control the accelerating cost of healthcare, only partially subsidizes the cost of health insurance, and does absolutely nothing to contain the rampant greed of the giant health care insurance companies. This I am certain of, since I have observed how the healthcare market works both as a provider and as a consumer. (see my blog postregarding the Ryan healthcare plan that I posted on April 29, 2011.)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Facebook is the Problem?

I can't believe it's been 5 months since I posted here.  Yes, I have been on call more than usual lately and Barbara is having a knee replacement in the morning, but the real problem is . . . in a word . . . Facebook.

I have been sharing a lot of short communications with only a few people.  By current standards on social media sites, I am a veritable hermit.  I have, by design, only a few family members and a very select few close friends as Facebook "friends."  Limiting my "friends" allows me to (a) keep my personal life reasonably personal and (b) keeps the number of postings showing up daily on my Facebook page to an easily readable number.

Facebook has served a purpose in that it keeps me up to date on what is happening with my family and some of my close friends, and perhaps they have some interest in the going-ons in my own life.  What it does NOT do is serve as a place for me to sort my thoughts on a topic by writing a short essay, nor does it allow my friends and family to, at their convenience, read something from me that is longer than a Facebook posting, such as a book review or a travelogue from a trip I might have recently taken.

The other problem is that facebook is not really the best way to communicate, in the classical sense of the term, with other people.  I know that many of my facebook postings are lost in the "noise" of the site.  If someone with a lot of "friends" goes for several hours without reading his/her post, they will likely never scroll all the way to the oldest post since their last online check.

Don't get wrong, I am not going to cut off all my ties to facebook . . . I really enjoy having a window into the lives of my family and friends . . . but I am going to return to some serious blog posting, starting with a review of two books about economic theory:  How Much is Enough; Money and the Good Life by Robert and Edward Skidelsky, and The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek.  These were not easy books to read, and are going to be a challenge to summarize, contrast, and compare.

When I was 18, I knew all the answers.