Sunday, December 7, 2008

Undoing the long defeat

If the past has been “fighting the long defeat” then the future must be a “new springtime”. If the past is the story of families and communities being separated from their common purposes and becoming individual cogs of the collectivist machine, then the future must be the story of reclaiming for families the dignity and purpose of producing for their own use much of what they need.

The law is an ass and using the law to enact utopia is often either dangerous or unpractical. There are a few things that would make things easier, but most of the push-back to today’s collectivist consumerism or socialized capitalism must come from voluntary simplicity. In other words this must be something people want and that emerges almost organically with just a bit of cultivation.

That is not to say that once we know where we want to be we can’t advocate a little populist tweaking that favors our cause. Tweaking such as protecting domestic industry from free-trade, raising the minimum wage for ages 25-30 and ages 30-120, and changing the collection of taxes from an income tax to a consumption or sales tax model. Also, we can reinstate certain anti-monopolistic laws and practices, size limits for farms and businesses that are eligible to receive tax breaks, subsidies, disaster relief, SBA loans, and exceptions to burdensome regulations, etc.

After all how much regulation is needed on a small bit of business between a buyer and seller who know each other either personally or by reputation? Why for the love of St. Pete must we subsidize and bail-out big business when we aren’t sure it is a good thing to subsidize small ones? As a practical matter we should ask ourselves how free we will be when we all work for either the government or Wal-Mart; the answer is just a bit freer than when the government takes Wal-Mart over.

One more area to tweak politically is our current residential zoning and development laws. These could easily and popularly be better geared to the development of community. First all future non-productive residential lots should be limited in size. Another priority of smart growth should be sustainability; arable and scenic land should be identified and preserved as farms or wilderness areas. Currently some states offer to buy the development rights from farmers who live near urban areas but want their farms to remain farms, but this is too little, too late. But rather than strictly relying on the jackasses that make our laws we need a list of action points.

First, the story of the new springtime must be the story of communities being rebuilt by individual families - families who value small shops over big-box-store consumerism. This can be done well within your current budget by buying less overall and especially with regards to entertainment-type purchases and services that our grandfathers never had use for. Also for the lower income family that wishes to embrace community, many of the things we need can be obtained at second-hand stores that are always small businesses or charities.

Secondly, we should all garden even if we only start with growing a few herbs or tomatoes in a hanging planter. In fact, starting small is recommended as gardening is an art and a science. A great way to learn gardening is to help out a seasoned gardener who is getting too old to do all the heavy lifting. It brings that human element of shared experience and a passing of the baton, a thing even the best books or websites cannot offer.

Third, we should look to do any necessary food processing ourselves or within a small group of friends or family that share our value of sustainable living. Brewing, winemaking, grinding wheat, canning, butchering, cooling and freezing and so forth are sometimes better done in groups that share the investment in equipment, storage, and facilities. Perhaps each family in the group could own one of those elements of food production or storage.

Finally, most of the changes we make on a governmental level should tend to be gradual and incremental. We should allow some existing things that are less objectionable to be “grandfathered in” while others should be phased out through law or squeezed out through tax or regulation. We must not allow man-made morality to stop us from making laws or setting practices. Only God’s laws should define freedom; only His Public Revelation should define right and wrong.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What if they declared a recession and nobody showed up?

What if they declared a recession and nobody showed up? The commies used to have an expression that they circulated amongst their fellow travelers and "useful idiots." They used to ask the question "what if they declared a war and nobody showed up?" A lyric from a popular song of the period even stated, "I'm declaring peace."

I guess the success of the not showing up strategy depends on the aggressor. When Pol Pot declared war and nobody showed up he proceeded to make war on civilians unimpeded by a force capable of stopping him. This was the point of all the Commie propaganda, not to stop the killing, but to get us to not get involved and to therefore give the power to the communist party.

The Keynesian capitalists have long had the idea that if a recession is called we should simply refuse to participate. Recessions, we are told, are illogical lapses in confidence and logically if the government wisely stimulates the economy in the right way using deficit spending, then that will create a bridge to the next boom. This next boom will grow the economy, and the increase in tax revenue that the boom creates will pay off or pay down the debt that was run up by the deficit spending that built the bridge to the boom.

So, for instance, we had the free-trade boom with many people getting rich from the creative destruction that happens when high tech meets low tech and high wages meet low wages. The American factory worker was replaced by the Mexican worker and then the Chinese. The Mexican small-holder couldn't compete with the mechanized American farmer and was replaced by the capitalist collective farmer in Mexico. This ruined many Mexican rural communities and sent the Campasinos North.

Some people get rich through this creative destruction, and even the losers through the process of closing up shop, selling off, moving and trying to start something else generate some economic activity. The activity of selling off and moving to a new job is a one-time event and usually only represents a fraction of the contribution to GDP that the continued success of the destroyed family business could have contributed in the long term. So after the hype of the gold rush fades things settle down and the bean counters notice slowed growth.

Enter the Dot Com boom that started in the Clinton years; you know the one that was propped up and extended by accounting fraud. That bubble burst right at the end of Clinton's' second term and has generally been blamed on "W" Bush. Then 911 hit and the US started borrowing money to buy munitions and private contractor services; the debt grew.

The wars however are not an industry and something had to be done to build consumer confidence or confidence in consumerism in order to continue gluttonous spending. We call this gluttony of food, drink, entertainment and junk the rising standard of living. Yes, two parents working full time to finance a McMansion, diabetes inducing diet, and storage units full of junk is how we define the good life. Our personal and national finances are in ruin, we have personally and nationally lost the means of production; clearly something had to be done!

The answer the financial gurus came up with was the mortgage and real estate boom based on easy credit. Easy APR terms, easy to qualify for a new or bigger house, and easy refinancing of credit card debt into mortgages on overpriced homes. This didn't actually build a bridge to the next boom so much as it maintained the consumer's status quo, masking the fact that the country's industry was being busted out. The economy was going well so Bush was reelected.

An economy based on an industry of consumption of services and imported goods, paid for by getting into credit card debt, that is paid for by rolling credit card debt into a refi on overvalued real estate - such an economy is only based on everybody playing along. The only thing we still have going for us is that the rest of the world hasn't adjusted to all this and figured out how to leave us high and dry.

When they do you can talk up your theory of non participation in recessions all you want, but when a Pol Pot of a recession comes along your co-operation won't be necessary.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Politics that we don't have to apoligize for

Let's talk politics, life, wealth and the Faith. In order of importance these would be listed as faith, life, wealth and politics. Faith is truth revealed by God; it includes things we can't understand because Gods ways are above ours. We can often validate the truths of our faith through studies of history, health and sociology, but some revealed truths are just that, revealed and not observable with scientific methods.

All the concrete things we like to call reality can be thought of as "just a thought in the mind of God" meaning that God, who wills us into existence, is the ultimate reality. This puts his creation into perspective. This means that his publicly revealed instructions for how we are to live should be given more respect than market research about "the bottom line". This also means that if in prayer, or private revelation, we discern a strong and consistent feeling, we would be crazy to ignore it and not explore it. Granted, private revelation, unlike public revelation is not guaranteed to be accurate.

As a created being, our life is important because it gives us an opportunity to know, love and serve God. While many people might pretend to agree with this they live as though consuming things and experiencing pleasure and the approval of their fellows is the pinnacle of meaning and reality. This is called atheism in practice or practical atheism. The hallmark of this mindset is the dismissing of revealed truth as not being based in real life, or the real world. What they are really saying is that the creation is reality and that the Creator is either fictional, unimportant or only important on Christmas, Easter, and disasters like September 11Th.

Next we should say why wealth is important. Just as our Catholic Faith can free us from being culturally or sexually enslaved and debased, the right type of wealth can free a man from the countless indignities faced by those whose only way of providing for their family is to offer their service for wages. True wealth therefore is owning the means of production. Either you are "the man" or you work for "the man". It is an article of faith amongst free-market enthusiasts that true freedom consists of the laborer being free to negotiate with the owner, but the laborer is only free to choose between the limited opportunities offered him, starvation, or welfare. Maybe a bit of cynicism about the freedom to bow to market dictates is called for here.

Much of the indignities associated with "working for the man" stem from the fact that the owners, managers, and office politicians are alienated from the regular employees. Our big business style is based on volume discounts, economies of scale, and a monopolistic thuggery that consists of scorched earth buying and borrowing. The problem with these scorched earth tactics is that in the process of destroying small businesses to gain market share, the big business may or may not destroy itself in the process, but it always destroys the family owned businesses. The family is cut lose from the dignity and security of ownership and meaningful production; its' members are no longer untied in purpose or in community as they must seek employment where it may be found.

It is capitalist collectivism. It is not the sine qua non of freedom; it is the gateway to socialism. The socialist used to see the family as a threat because the family supplied the services and stability that the socialist proposed should be supplied by the state that they hoped to run. The family is now largely broken down and separated from its' productive property. The state is always increasing its services, but it is hard to say who should have the credit. Did free-love destroy the family or did the free-market destroy the community? Either way we have definitely been liberated from individual responsibility and the collectivist state and the collectivist business system have assumed the responsibility and control.

So maybe if we put the immediate "bottom line" mentality aside and look at the long term we can see that the Popes were right to have been warning us about this for years. Then we wouldn't have to apologize for our politics

It's about life

I think a lot of what we argue about as politics we should instead talk about in terms of life. For instance, I was having a political discussion with my uncle about how our laws should be structured to maximize freedom for families by encouraging self sufficiency and decentralization. De-collectivizing and decentralizing production and control by creating sustainable self-governed communities of small businesses is the Catholic ideal of subsidiary.

He responded with fears about idealists using draconian measures to achieve these Utopian schemes, failures in the ability to supply our large population, rising costs, and road to Hell being paved with good intentions. Also he had doubts that anyone really wants to upset the status quo apple cart or, rather, our high standard of living.

The best answer to his questions - and by questions we always mean objections - the best answer is to use the example of Home brew. Home brewing is a great way to supply a necessity by making it ourselves.

Of course we don't make every ingredient from scratch; we have a community; we have civilization. Because it is not possible for me to grow the hops, grains, sugar and so forth I buy the kit from the people who are best able to supply these items.

But why not go one step further and buy the finished product? After all you can get cheap beer at the store for about 55 cents per beer, and beer almost of the quality I make for 75 cent - $1.75 per beer; the cost of production for each home brewed beer is 35 -40 cents not counting labor. Clearly the most efficient way to get beer is to buy it.

This is the beauty of being Catholic; you have the freedom to go either way. The Church advocates that "the means of production be as widespread as possible", but She makes no hard and fast rules about how we act on this principle. We do have to use discernment though, which is an understanding of how we are free to do the right thing.

It is up to us to look for ways that we can liberate our families and our communities from the consumerist and collectivist impulses of our mad system. We need to start with activities that we can enjoy and that either save us money or cost us little, and keep the means of production local and decentralized. Producing things by hand gives us a better perspective on the products themselves.

We have to avoid reactionary know-nothingness and apply the wisdom of the ages to the fallout of modern life. We have to ask for guidance with a willingness to follow it.