Whither the economy?

I’m no economist, and that gives me an advantage when talking about our economy because I don’t know what I’m talking about and I can be snarly at economists, which is important right now because it seems safe to say that we are well into a crisis that only economists could have created. Adam Smith dealt with economics as a moral science. Indeed.

The layers of folly that are unraveling on Wall Street and in the American banking system run so deep, are rooted in such persistently foolish ideas, that I feel compelled simply to pontificate a little bit and hope I can get some good ideas out of it. I feel confident when I say things like “Greed is bad,” or, “Gambling beyond your means is dangerous,” or, “It isn’t safe to do dangerous things.” But when it comes to the details of economy, I don’t know any more than the next guy what will happen. That’s why I fall back on platitudes like, “Greed is bad,” or, well you get the picture.

I worry about people who know the world so well, who are so versed in economics, that they can eliminate the badness of greed or make dangerous things safe.

Let me add that I don’t consider myself a capitalist either because I’m not a materialist. I think I’m probably a distributivist (that is nothing like a communist, in case you are worried) if anything, but I don’t know enough about the fine points of the theory. What I am opposed to is vast bureaucracies who replace the wisdom of elders with their expertise – whether they are corporate or government is not the primary concern. Whether they can act lovingly and wisely is the decisive matter. I don’t believe that the world is better when people have more shirts to wear that don’t last very long.

That’s context.

This economic crisis is the result of pride: first, the pride of the economists and politicians who thought they could control an unspeakably complex system with their simplistic solutions; second, the pride of the bankers who thought they could survive reams of thoughtless loans that, maybe, assuaged their consciences; third, the pride of those of us who thought we deserved things we couldn’t afford and gambled our futures on it.

It is also the result of sloth: first, the sloth of the bankers who made careless loans; second, the sloth of those of us who couldn’t wait till we made the money we felt we deserved; third, the sloth of everybody who thought we could spend our way into prosperity.

Sloth and pride are enough to pave our way to hades. But I suppose I could go out on a limb and suggest that greed might have something to do with it.

Taking on debt unnecessarily is an evil thing to do. Maybe I say that with a tinge of resentment because I have had to take on debt; but even when I did it was the result of my own presumption that put me in the situation where I had to do it.

What gets me is this: we are so in love with, so trusting of centralization that we can’t resist it. I take that back. We don’t love centralization at all; we love its lies. For example, we actually believe that we are all better off buying crumby shirts from Wal-mart that cost less than shirts from a local vendor because, well, because they’re cheaper.

Could Wal-Mart possibly have shipped so many jobs overseas if they were not so centralized? Isn’t that why we oppose monopolies in America?

Could the banks possibly have caused so much financial damage if we had not experienced yet another merging frenzy? We feel better if our banks have vast sums of money in their vaults. Of course. But what makes us think a bank with those vast sums of money is more trustworthy than the local trust company?

Where’s the analysis of the point at which the benefits of the merging and centralizing of power are undone by the cost. I was tempted to say this is not an economics issue, but then I realized that in fact it is an economics issue, if the word has meaning. And it used to.

Economy comes from the Greek for household customs or household laws. It used to have to do with the best way to run a household. Now it means the statistical analysis of the movement of money and how I can get more for myself. Autonomous economics is a death wish. It no longer has any interest in the household, the health of which is often in conflict with the so-called health of the substitute economy created by economists so they could have something that fit into their calculators.

i quote Edmund Burke: “The age of chivalry is past; that of sophisters, oeconomists, and calculators has come.”

I will be watching closely if I am able what happens to our economy over the next decade or so. I am not optimistic. The baby boomers have put little thought into reaping whirlwinds or raising children and both are alive and kicking. We thought if we could number our people, all would be in order. It was an evil spirit that led us to this blindness.

Thanks to our readers and a rhetorical analysis of the Obama/McCain debate

First of all, I have to say thank you to you who visit and read this blog. I often wish it contained earth-shattering insights instead of the ongoing wrestling of a lethal mind, but this month more of you visited this blog by 25% than ever before. Thank you! I hope it has offered you some insight, some information, maybe even some inspiration.

Also, a comment on the debate between McCain and Obama, preceded by a funny talk-show call in I heard last week (4:15 Wednesday). Somebody was ripping on McCain and came up with this priceless gem:

I don’t care if it’s Osama or Obama. We need change…

Make of that what you will.

But in more serious vein, consider the exchange between the two presidential aspirants over funding the troops. McCain pointed out that Obama voted against funding them, and Obama responded by pointing out a fine distinction that matters.

Obama said (I paraphrase): Senator McCain voted not to fund the troops if there was a time limit on the troop withdrawal while Obama voted not to fund the troops if there was not a time limit on the troop withdrawal. Personally, I don’t know military strategy or the particulars of the circumstances in Iraq well enough to know what they should do. But I do know, from classical rhetoric, how valuable a little thing called division can be in a debate.

It works like this: you note where you and your opponent agree and then identify the precise point of disagreement. To fail to do so is inevitably to argue about things you don’t even disagree about, something with which we are all all too familiar.

Of course, in a presidential debate, the goal is to simplify your opponent’s position so that you can position him for the watching public, and I give credit to John McCain for successfully doing so in this case. However, when you want to know reality, that isn’t the best way to get there. I commend Obama for coming close to a clarifying division in his reply.

Here’s what I think he should have done: he should have explicitly stated, “John, you and I both agree the troops should be funded. We both also agree that the funding of the troops should be provided under certain conditions. You believe they should be funded without a time line for withdrawal. I believe they should be funded only with a time line for withdrawal. So let’s discuss the real question here: should there be a time line for withdrawal?”

If you are teaching The Lost Tools of Writing, this comes in around lesson 6 or so under arrangement. You might want to use this debate as an example, but, of course, every debate provides an abundance of examples.

What I liked about this debate was the direct interaction of the debaters and Mr. Lehrer’s insistence that it take place. I believe the viewers actually learned something substantive about the potential supervisors of our decline into economic dismay over the next four years.

Sadly, mainly we learned that both of them have way too much confidence into impersonal bureaucracies to run our lives. I’m working on my campaign platform for 2012. I’ll be as experienced as Obama in an executive capacity!

One last thought: the upcoming generation will like Obama’s style a lot more. His eight acknowledgements of McCain’s ‘absolutely right” ness would be considered pansy by most people over 40, but people under 30 and especially under 25 are more like that. They place niceness as the ultimate value, remember, not truthfulness (often offensive) or strong leadership (often demanding). So it may or may not work for Obama this time, but I think he might represent a trend for the future.

Or maybe not. We’ll have to wait and see.

not on the test

I’m guessing this one will get around or even maybe already has, but I have to go ahead and post it here. My first successful video blog!. Enjoy (and thanks to Steve Elliott for letting me know about it):

Reflections

We are not trained to think organically. Too often we don’t consider and maybe don’t know how to consider the extent to which the health of the organs determines the well-being of the organism.

The great enemies of the soul are lying and flattery, sloth and thoughtlessness – especially in academics.

Celebrity replaces honor when life becomes a performance, when appearance replaces reality, when perception is reality.

Temptations change; people don’t.

Hurricane Follow Up

I’ve been asked how my friends in Houston are doing, particularly the church where we held our last conference. You’ll all be pleased to know that, apart from a couple dozen trees being uprooted, there is no extensive damage to the property and none to the building at Our Savior Lutheran, one of the most beautiful churches in America.

Some concern was expressed about how the media covered the issue, complaining about the government response and all that, as though it were possible to turn back the hurricane and overcome every single person’s trials. We do need a substitute God, don’t we?

Who’s Lying Now?

I’ve never read Stuart Taylor before, so I can’t say anything about his positions or politics, or even credibility, but this article analyzes the political ads and the responses to them by the media. He affirms some concerns I raised earlier and goes into quite a bit of detail I couldn’t get to.

Reviewing or Designing a Curriculum

Reflecting on the previous post, I thought that one great difference between Christian classical education and conventional metrics is that the former is personal and the latter is abstract. The root concept of Christian classical education is that there are wise men and women to whom we should listen and whom we should imitate. In so doing, we can become wise like them.

This involves relationships and all the nuances implied in love. Standardized testing, for example, lacks nuance.

So then I got thinking about curriculum. How are we to design them and review them in a manner that honors the nature of the Christian classical approach. This is where things become challenging – not so much because it makes it harder (it doesn’t necessarily) but because it calls for a level of honesty we might not want to reach.

The thing is, Christian classical education is theological and metaphysical. Conventional education is not allowed to be theological, and I don’t just mean legally. And most conventional testers or administrators or teachers get a little annoyed when you bring in metaphysics. They pretty well echo Dewey’s attitude that education is practical, not metaphysical.

But Christian classical education is shamelessly metaphsysical. It goes beyond physics. It believes there is a realm that is not understood by the tools of the natural sciences. It believes that the mind can perceive things that the senses cannot.

It follows that if you want to design a Christian classical curriculum, or even just a classical curriculum, you are going to have to implement metaphysics into it.

If you are a parent or teacher, you will want to fulfill your duty and review the materials your school is using. So how do you do so? You need to look at it from each of the following perspectives:

Theological
Philosophical/Metaphysical
Epistemological
Ethical
Aesthetic
And after all that you might as well look at the content too.

Are you still here? If so, you are probably ready to stab me. “How am I supposed to review a curriculum on all those levels?” You are asking, and not calmly.

Well, how have you reviewed curricula up to this point? I would ask. No doubt it included some elements, at least, from those categories. And beyond that, you have probably turned to experts, like Laura Berquist, Susan Wise-Baur, and Veritas Press.

That’s what you should continue to do. Only now you can do it a little more aware of what you are doing. The mistake would be to not bear your responsibility for your students or children. You do need to reflect on the nature of what you are doing or asking a school to do.

What do you mean by education? What do you want from it? What worldview do you want your children to be nurtured in? What kind of environment do you want them to be educated in? How do you believe children learn? What is knowable, and what is not? How should knowledge be assessed? What is knowledge?

Rest assured, if you are a Christian and or a lover of classical education, the chasm between your answers to those questions and those of the conventional educator is, in some places, vast.