College Roundup

Friday, September 30, AD 2011

I’ve been swamped the past two weeks, hence the delay in the rankings. I did have a huge realignment post lined up, but then Texas tried to play chicken with the Pac-12 and lost. As of now everyone is back to a holding pattern. The SEC and Big East have to move (the SEC to get to 14 and the Big East at least to return to the BCS-minimum 8). Who knows what will happen?

Thankfully, there is real football. Oklahoma, Alabama, and LSU have already established themselves as national title contenders. Wisconsin with a win over Nebraska could put themselves into that category this week. We’ll see how Clemson & Va Tech pan out but the winner will likely win the ACC and be the conference’s best hope for a national title. In the PAC-12, we’re still waiting on stanford v. Oregon to see who will be the top dog, but Arizona St. is making a good case to win the South and play the spoiler role come December. With S. Florida’s loss last night, it looks like the Big East is just going to be grateful to get its last (or second to last; no one’s said when Pitt & Syracuse are leaving) BCS invite this year.

The Heisman is still a mess, though I note that despite the love LSU’s defense has gotten its star Tyrann Mathieu gets no Heisman love. I understand QBs are shiny, but at some point doesn’t a D guy deserve some real consideration even if he’s not return KOs and INTs like Woodson? If not, let’s have a defensive Heisman and acknowledge that the Heisman is really an offense-only award.

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One Response to College Roundup

  • The Big East is doomed as a football conference, as it should be. I am a longtime Pitt fan and anyone could see that the Big East administration saw football as a poor redheaded stepchild to basketball. Well, despite the numerous problems that college sports has, football drives the bus, not basketball. For several years, the administration at Pitt urged the Big East to strengthen its football lineup, but, being based in Providence, they dragged their feet. Central Florida, East Carolina and most notably the University of Houston wanted in the Big East.

    The Catholic basketball only schools didn’t like the football schools and as a result, Virginia Tech, Boston College and Miami fled back in 2003, and Pitt & Syracuse are now following them.

    There is no great BE football team, and there usually hasn’t been.

Malaise II

Friday, September 30, AD 2011

On July 15, 1979, after an abysmal time leading the nation, Jimmy Carter, worst President of the United States except for James Buchanan and the present incumbent, gave a speech in which he blamed the ills of the land on the American people.  The problems certainly could not be due to him and his wretched policies, they had to be the fault of everyone else.  The speech became known as the spiritual malaise speech, although Carter did not use the term malaise.

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39 Responses to Malaise II

  • Yep, what the American people need are a cheerleader. Bring in the Dallas Cowgals!

  • Throughout our history Joe the American people have responded to good presidential leadership. We do not need a cheerleader; we desperately do need a good leader.

  • The following was posted on Instapundit a short while ago.

    “ . . . Well, I am quite deliberately rubbing it in, as the ridiculously inflated expectations for Obama are regularly and repeatedly exposed as . . . ridiculously inflated. But what’s really juvenile is expecting that an inexperienced former community organizer could successfully execute the office of President of the United States. And if I’m peeing all over the wave of hope-and-change hype that got him into office despite his obvious unsuitability, it’s to help ensure that nothing this disastrous happens again in my lifetime. I realize that it’s painful for those who fell victim to the mass hysteria to constantly be reminded of their foolishness, but I hope it’ll be the kind of pain that results in learning. . . . “

    “UPDATE: Prof. XXX emails:
    ‘Nicely said.
    ‘Many all too willingly wanted to follow the piper and now that it’s proven to have been a disastrous choice, would prefer that all that was forgotten. Well, no it shouldn’t be. Votes matter, and their gullibility, or pursuit of easy absolution, or confirmation of some imagined moral superiority in support of the President’s election has led to the disaster we now face. Many among these people, in particular those with a public voice, bear a large measure of responsibility for having brought us to this point. What is truly juvenile is that among many of these same people there exists a continued denial of the reality we face and of their role in helping to bringing it about.’

    “Indeed. Which is why I continue to rub it in.” Instapundit

  • The Carter Administration made a number of mistakes in policy. Notably, the President reacted to the Federal Reserve’s dysfunctional monetary policy with a series of Potemkin measures, not addressing escalating currency erosion until the appointment of Paul Volcker as chairman thereof in the fall of 1979. Even so, they insisted that Volcker not implement his plan for controlling the growth of monetary aggregates during an election campaign. (Please recall, though, that the Board responsible for the decay in price stability in 1977-79 was largely appointed by his predecessors). There were some decisions made in late 1978 and early 1979 regarding the turmoil in Iran which should be regretted later, but much of his trouble with Iran was largely imposed and would have bedeviled anyone in similar circumstances.

    I think you need to recall that Mr. Carter was operating within constraints imposed by the internal culture of the Democratic Party, that he tried to educate his party on certain matters, and that the Democratic congressional caucus had little use for him because his priorities were so different from theirs. (Hence Ted Kennedy’s presidential campaign).

    It was Mr. Carter who promoted the removal of residual wage and price controls in 1977 (in the teeth of a filibuster run by George McGovern); it was Mr. Carter who promoted the removal of aging and dysfunctional regulatory systems in the transportation sector; it was Mr. Carter who attempted to persuade Congress (with no success) to stop using the tax code to sluice benefits to the oil industry and other favored economic sectors; it was Mr. Carter who attempted (without full success) to persuade Congress to pass a balanced budget for the fiscal year ending in 1980; it was Mr. Carter who began arming the insurrection against the Communist government in Afghanistan.

  • Well, I do think we need to hear something like what Carter said. Donald, if you didn’t think society needed to hear a ‘Carter speech’ about society’s building blocks, waste, sloppiness, loss of nerve, immorality, laziness, etc., you wouldn’t post many of your posts. I do agree that Carter may have been kind of ineffective overall. But when he got up and told us we needed to look at ourselves, he spoke truly. By the 70’s, we needed to hear that.

  • Couldn’t disagree more Pat, unless I tried very hard. The main problem this country faced in the late Seventies was Carter’s idiot policies. His speech was not a serious look at the failings of the American people, and I think such generalized Jeremiads are usually useless execept to make the person on the soapbox feel superior, but was rather an exercise at blame shifting from him to the people who had the misfortune to live under him. The American people gave the appropriate response to this tripe in November of 1980.

  • The main problem this country faced in the late Seventies was Carter’s idiot policies.

    Donald, in 1978, the country had had two decades of escalating rates of social pathology. Carter’s policies did not cause that and, from his post in the federal government, the only components he was in a position to do much about were illegal immigration and the international drug trade. You could likely point to various and sundry disagreeable things emerging from the regulatory state during those years. The thing is, positions in any administration are staffed by camp followers drawn from abiding Democratic constituencies. Carter commonly thought and acted in counterpoint to those constituencies, but he still had to operate in that matrix.

    You really do not say what policies to which you were referring. Monetary policy was poorly conducted. Perhaps critics of Carter have found the memoranda which show that Arthur Burns, et al were taking instruction from the President in these matters. We know from the whole history of the period after 1965 that Burns was quite capable of bollixing things without Mr. Carter’s intervention. Carter should have foregone gimmicks and told Burns, Miller, et al to get the growth rate of monetary aggregates under control. Keep in mind, though, that the Democratic Party’s cognoscenti was populated with characters like James Tobin who insisted that this could not be practically implemented and that the congressional caucus was occupied by characters like Hubert Humphrey and Gus Hawkins who thought you could garner full employment via legislative fiat.

    Iran was a godawful mess, but it is de trop to attribute to Mr. Carter the structural weaknesses of the Shah’s regime or the ruler’s personal failings. It is conceivable that a military coup executed in January of 1979 might have allowed some sort of sensible regime to take control. Then again, it might have failed utterly. You only see the downside of the policies you elect to implement. (The same observations apply to troubles in Central America).

    The military’s skill set had been deteriorating for years. He could have and should have been more vigorous about promoting improvements. That was a sin of omission, and one he sought to rectify as he was leaving office.

  • Art, let me count some of the ways:

    1. A completely ineffective energy policy which involved wearing sweaters and lowering thermostats.
    2. Raging inflation and interest rates. In 1980 inflation hit 13.5% and the prime interest rate charged by banks was 15.26.
    3. Afghanistan-Carter’s intial response was the plaintive cry that Brezhnev had lied to him, a symbol that with him at the helm our foreign policy was truly “Innocents abroad”.
    4. A hollow military-The military despised Carter for producing a weak military. My brother was commanding an armored platoon in Germany on night manueveres when news that Reagan had been elected reached them. Cheers rang out through the column.
    5. Iran-The failure of the rescue mission was a sign of what the military had been reduced to under Carter. His Deputy Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, when the cabinet was being briefed on the mission, asked if the weapons could be shot out of the hands of the Iranian guards rather than harming them. The disbelieving briefing officer told Christopher that shooting guns out of hands was only something that happened on television.

  • 1. Effective energy policy would have required the following: comprehensive removal of controls on the price of petroleum and its derivatives; abjuring the use of general tax revenues and financing of road construction and maintenance with tolls, excises on gasoline, and vehicle registration fees; the imposition of green excises on petroleum and its derivatives; and extension work with builders and architects promoting insulation technology. A federal laboratory investigating alternative energy technology and also improved technologies for disposing of nuclear waste might have been helpful also. Such a policy would also have required time for its salutary features to take effect. Carter fought tooth and nail with Congress (with partial success) to remove controls on the price of petroleum (and Reagan was able to accelerate implementation of decontrol by executive order). To sell the rest, the President would have to tell a truth most people did not want to hear: that they were not paying the full freight for their consumer choices and they needed to do so for reasons of economic efficiency and reasons of state. Aspects of that the President attempted. I cannot think of any of his successors who would have even made the attempt.

    2. I agree with you regarding inflation. I do point out, however, that the President was making decisions in a particular intellectual and political context. You need to ask yourself which of his opponents in 1976 would have made better decisions. This is speculative, to be sure, but that is inherent in evaluating a President because what you are evaluating is a contingent response to circumstances. (I suspect Mr. Ford, Mr. Reagan, and Mr. Brown would have done a better job with this. Messrs. Udall, Church, Wallace et al? Nope.)

    3. This is trivia. (And after what you call his plaintive cry, Mr. Brezhnev got hit with a policy innovation that had never been attempted in a sustained way: equipment of an insurgency intending to overthrow a Communist government).

    4. Carter did not manufacture such a military, he inherited it. Carter should have been far more vigorous about improvements in the military’s equipment and skill set. You have to recall, though, that he was facing a Congress for which this was not, in 1977, a priority. Mr. Reagan would have done things differently, but I think you are forgetting how atypical Mr. Reagan’s views were at the time. (And please note, the Reagan Administrations methods – an arbitrary annual increase in the real military budget – could be somewhat crude.

    5. The President makes 3,000 discretionary appointments. Some of them are bound to be crummy. Warren Christopher and Robert Pastor had no business being any position in the foreign policy apparat and Cyrus Vance was certainly in the wrong position (as the President came to realize). The real problem with the Iranian mess (at that point) is that the Administration allowed ABC News to turn it into a saga and the President appeared to have ruled out pro-active measures (e.g. asking for a declaration of war and then jailing Iranians in the country as enemy aliens – suggested by George Kennan) to resolve the crisis.

    You set yourself a high bar referring to Carter as the worst president since the antebellum. The man’s bad decisions in their consequences do not compare unfavorably to those of Herbert Hoover or Lyndon Johnson and you completely neglect the man’s virtues (such as his allergy to public sector borrowing and his willingness to tackle issues which did not arise from constituency pressure). He had an unpleasant public personality, he could be opportunistic in a disagreeable manner, he was caught up short by events. However, Carter did not stink. The Democratic Party stank. Mr. Carter was more antagonistic to the culture of that political nexus (as manifested in our wretched federal legislature) than any of his Democratic predecessors or successors).

  • 1. As to energy Art, Carter’s policy was rigidly focused on conservation and sponsoring what is now called “green technologies”. They are an economic boondoggle now, even more so in Carter’s time, as the technology to make solar, wind, etc simply isn’t there, even more so in the Peanut Farmer’s day.

    2. Oh Carter was probably no worse on the economy than the Democrats he ran against in 1976, which speaks volumes about the rot besetting that party. To be fair, I also regarded Ford as a poor president and voted two-handedly in November of that year. I think only Reagan had the political guts and the imagination to undertake the stern measures need to wring inflation from our economy.

    3. It’s not trivia Art, it is revelatory. The arming of the Afghan resistance was almost entirely the work of Brzezinski, Carter’s national security adviser, and was hotly opposed by the rest of Carter’s foreign policy team. It was a rare foreign policy success, other than the Camp David Accords, in an administration otherwise noted for American retreat around the globe.

    4. No Art, Carter was content to gut the military. I remember it vividly since I was in the Army at the time. The contempt that most people in the military had for the man is hard to exaggerate. His neglect of the military was part and parcel of his foreign policy which could be summed up in his statement that we were outgrowing our “indordinate fear” of communism.

    5. Warren Christopher and Vance were typical of the appointees of Carter running our foreign policy. National security advisor Brzezinski was very much the exception. (As I recall Brzezinski was booed at the Democrat convention in 1980 by delegates there.)

    I call him the worst president except for James Buchanan Art because the man was a walking disaster in both domestic policy and in foreign policy, all the while being the most sanctimonius president we have ever had. I have never relished a politician’s defeat more than I did his on election night 1980.

  • 1. There is nothing bad about conservation. There are arguments to be made for and against government engaging in scientific and technical research outside its usual book. It gets to be a boondoggle not in the doing but when you create a state-dependent businesses and laboratories – i.e. corporate welfare and higher education pork. Carter faced a problem when he took office generated by public policy at all levels: petroleum products (and hence activities like motor vehicle use) were underpriced. Attacking that problem (and he put a great many chips on the table in so doing) puts you on a collision course with Congress and the general public. He was willing to take these hits. Attacking him for his energy policy is ill-informed and graceless.

    2. Both men who chaired the Federal Reserve Board during the period running from Carter’s inauguration to the summer of 1979 performed wretchedly. Please recall that the first of these men was a Republican appointee who had performed wretchedly for the previous seven years. The academic economist who correctly diagnosed the source of the problems manifest after 1968 was Milton Friedman, whose insight was that the empirically discernable trade-off between inflation and unemployment was crucially-dependent on public expectations of future price trajectories. This insight did not penetrate the Fed during those years nor the business press.

    3. It is trivia and your elaboration on the policy decision – that he over-ruled most of his advisors – undermines your argument.

    4. I am not going to second guess you on the subject of morale in the Army. The man ‘committed to gutting the military’ expended 5.67% of gross domestic product on it during his first years in office as opposed to Mr. Ford’s 6.13%. Please note, the ratio of military expenditure to domestic product saw an almost monotonic decline after the end of the Korean War. There were three reversals in this pattern: one during 1956-58, one during 1965-67, and one extending over the period running from 1979-86. Mr. Reagan’s military buildup antedated Mr. Reagan’s administration.

    5. The salient officials for high politics in any Administration are the Secretary of Defence, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of State, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and the staff director of the National Security Council. For the trade, development, and monetary component, the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the director of the Agency for International Development are salient. The director of what was called the U.S. Information Agency &c. bring up the rear. The chief of mission at the United Nations is quite prominent but not very important (Mr. Carter used that job for political patronage and eventually fired its occupant after repeated reprimands). Dr. Brzezinksi’s conflicts with Cyrus Vance were well known. It was Vance, not Brzezinski, who ended up leaving. I do not recall that Harold Brown, a physicist from CalTech with a previous history in the Defense Department’s research apparat or Gen. David Jones, a military professional, had much of an ideological profile. The Central Intelligence Agency was directed by another military professional, Stansfield Turner. Adm. Turner has been criticized for a number of things – e.g. firing a great many people he should not have and placing too much emphasis on technical collection over espionage. The agency is such a black box and has such a history of dysfunction it is hard to evaluate these claims. Vance and his subordinates aside, I am just not seeing an incorrigible dovecote here. (You recall Carter himself had been a Naval officer).


    C’mon. Herbert Hoover presided over a catastrophic economic implosion largely attributable to wretched monetary policy (and inadequate banking supervision). Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, and William Westmoreland prosecuted a war so ineptly we ended up with 58,000 dead soldiers and we lost anyway. (Did I mention the Office of Economic Opportunity?). Woodrow Wilson promoted the disestablishment of central Europe’s monarchies and assisted in perpetrating the Treaty of Versailles – all in pursuit of his ideological fixations and dippy collective security schemes. The competition is just too stiff for Mr. Carter to win, place, or show in the Worst-President-Evah sweepstakes.

  • “1. There is nothing bad about conservation.”

    There most certainly is when it doesn’t get to the heart of the problem. All of the sweater wearing and theromstat diving in the world didn’t make a dent in America’s energy problem. Carter relied on pie in the sky initiatives rather than implementing policies which would spur domestic American energy production. His legacy has become one of the central core beliefs of his energy-luddite party.

    “2. Both men who chaired the Federal Reserve Board during the period running from Carter’s inauguration to the summer of 1979 performed wretchedly.”

    Wretchedly sums up the performance of the entire Carter administration in regard to the economy Art.

    “3. It is trivia”

    No, it is a simple indication of his world view, a world view he has doubled down on during his career as our most ex-of ex-Presidents. He took the advice from his national security advisor on Afghanistan, a very atypical response from Carter, I think largely due to the fact that 1980, election year, was the next year. Carter was a “useful idiot” otherwise in office for our enemies, just as he has been a “useful idiot” out of office for our enemies.

    4. Hollow military:

    “Joint Chiefs of Staff Break With Carter On Budget Planning for Defense Needs” p. A1: “Right now, we have a hollow Army,” responded Gen. E. C. Meyer, Army chief of staff, in what turned out to be the bluntest response. “I don’t believe the current budget responds to the Army’s needs for the 1980s,” said Meyer of Carter’s fiscal 1981 defense budget. “There’s a tremendous shortfall in the ability to modernize quickly” in response to the Soviet threat.”

    Washington Post, May 30, 1980

    5. “Dr. Brzezinksi’s conflicts with Cyrus Vance were well known. It was Vance, not Brzezinski, who ended up leaving.”

    And outside of Afghanistan it was Vance’s policy of retreat and accomodation in regard to our adversaries which continued to be followed.

    Art, I remember those years vividly. I think Jimmy Carter came very close to derailing the American economy and placed us on a very dangerous path where his weakness and dithering encouraged Soviet adventurism. I can only imagine the shambles that this country would have experienced if he had had a second term. No, for all around bad performance as president Carter will get my vote right after James Buchanan, the man whose tilt to the South helped bring on the secession crisis, and who helped convince the South that the North would not fight.

  • I have Jimmy Carter to thank for making me a Republican. When Carter was elected, I was 13 and I bought into my parents’ view that the GOP was the cause of the nation’s problems and now that the Democrats ran everything in Washington, things would improve.

    Carter cured me of ever believing anything that came out of the mouth of a Democrat.

    Carter was an incompetent, limp-wristed, ineffectual and diastorous president. His overall incompetence did lead us to Ronald Reagan, the greatest president of the 20th century.

    Obama was the second pop culture president. The slimy Bill Clinton was first. As modern pop culture is infested with leftist politics and lack of morality, it has become the religion of far too many young people. I remember Forbes Avenue in Oakland (Pittsburgh) was closed down because it was filled with college students from Pitt celebrating Obumbler’s election. Those fools back in 2008 are now the unemployed and under employed – and that bunch, across the nation, helped put Obumbler in the White House, because it was the “cool thing to do”.

    Sometimes, people have to learn the hard way, more often than not. Perhaps some of the nation’s young people will look elsewhere than Jon Stewart and other late night talk show hosts for their political information next time around.

  • Carter will never get another “shot” at ruining us. Obama may be given four more years to finish us off.

    There were a lot of bad presidents. Obama sets the standard.

    Make no mistake. It’s not only his destructive ideology and incompetence, add dishonesty and ill-disguised calls for violence.

    New Harris poll: 51 – 49: Ron Paul over Obama.

    You can fool some of the people . . .

  • I remember those years as well. So do most of the regulars here. If Darwin or Paul Zummo do not mind an unsolicited suggestion and want a sense of the feel of contemplating public life at that time, the movie Americathon or Ann Beattie’s novel Falling in Place might be helpful toward that end.

    I think one problem people have in recalling the Carter years has to do with a pervasive anxiety that dissipated after 1982. There was tremendous and unanticipated social entropy after 1958 manifest in all spheres. Things fall apart and everything looks absurd. Few people, even very perceptive and intelligent men like my father, had an idea where the bottom was. Around about 1982, the bottom showed up, for the most part. There has continued to be decay in one important sphere (attitudes toward sex and family life), but other than that, we could feel the bottom.

    I think Jimmy Carter came very close to derailing the American economy

    Just what does that phrase mean in terms of measurable results? We had a brief and mild recession in 1980 (in an economy that was otherwise growing); the labor market was not in the best of shape, but unemployment rates never exceeded 7.5%; the troubles in the banking system (savings banks losing money on their loan portfolios and money center banks with uncollectable sovereign loans) were as yet not manifest; there was an eruption in commodity prices in 1979-80, but such eruptions happen without much regard to public policy and households can (and did) adjust; and we had chronic problems with currency erosion, as we had had since 1966. Much of the inflation experienced in 1979 and 1980 was a temporary phenomenon, but there was a baseline of about 8 or 9% in annual consumer price increases. It was a problem that could have been and should have been addressed, but re-stabilizing prices need not cause an economic depression and it was accomplished here without one.

    The man who accomplished that was Paul Volcker, and if you wish to undertake counter-factual speculation as to what would have happened had Mr. Carter been returned to office in 1980, you do need to take account of the fact that Mr. Carter appointed Mr. Volcker.

    and placed us on a very dangerous path where his weakness and dithering encouraged Soviet adventurism.

    I imagine that was part of it. Prestige – your reputation for power – is an asset. Mr. Carter dissipated a certain amount of it. Since leaving office, Mr. Carter has manifested a bourbonish learnt-nothing-and-forgot-nothing aspect to him. However, at the time, he was willing to make adjustments in the face of circumstances and in the face of failures (something Obama does not do). That included putting the military budget on an upward trajectory, planning a commando raid in Iran, unloading first Andrew Young and then Cyrus Vance, and beginning a military aid program to counter the red insurgency in El Salvador. Appointing Paul Volcker, an experienced central banker with a radically different view of monetary policy than his predecessor, was another act of reassessment.

  • Ron Paul over Obama by 51-49? Really?!!? I’d take that one with a boatload of salt…

  • “Expect more blaming of the American people from our Excuse Maker in Chief as his administration …”
    It took him some search time for the word ‘country’ after he said ‘great – uh’ in the video. Symptomatic of malaise, too, considering his title.
    Abominable is his ever so dead-eyed, ‘righteous’ castigation of only certain sectors of the American people, not even the American people as a whole, thus developing good guy-bad guy mentality into a voting block where good and bad become meaningless. The psychic wounds inflicted, one way or the other, on all the American people of whom he is President, will probably be festering by mid-2012. The bandages offered will probably be in shades of gray.

  • President Carter was man enough to sacrifice his presidency for the good of the American economy. No presidency could have survived the bloodletting remedy that Mr Volcker applied. It was the retrenchment of the economy achieved at the tail end of the Carter presidency that gave the US the leaness to spring forward. For Afghanistan, Carter had offered a mere $400 million to Zia-ulHaq, which he derisively dismissed as ‘peanuts’. Ronald Reagan blundered in with his billions and CIA training, thus ensuring that the rise of militant Islam followed the the end of Communism. The Reaganites were played like a violin by the Saudis and the Pakistanis. It cannot be denied that the Communists in Afghanistan tried to make a go of it through education and improved healthcare. The Islamists would have none of it. President Carter was basically a decent man who became embittered in his later years. Now Obama on the other hand is without doubt the least qualified, most vacuous man ever to be President. This is perhaps all for the good, as he has the moral and historic sense of an Alinsky agitator. The saving grace here is that unlike the legendary agitators he lacks the ability to carry through his all plans. As the saying goes, God takes of little children and the USA.

  • Carter sacrificed nothing Ivan. He had absolutely no clue about the economy or what Volcker’s policies would lead to. His appointment of Volcker was done reluctantly and under pressure from Wall Street. His first pick for the Fed, G. William Miller, believed that inflation was a necessary product of “priming the pump” of the economy, and fought against raising the interest rates of the Fed. That Carter had little understanding of the issues involved is demonstrated by the fact that he made Miller his Treasury Secretary as an inducement for him to leave the Fed so that he could appoint Volcker, thereby ensuring that Treasury policy and Fed policy would be at war with each other during the remainder of his administration.

    There is a revisionist view that it was the tax cuts of Reagan, and not Volcker’s policies, that actually produced the reduction in inflation:

    I do not know that I accept that, but it is true that what Volcker was doing had proven counter-productive until combined with the Reagan tax cuts of 1981. Certainly since Reagan tax cuts have not proven to be inflationary in the US, contrary to the dogma of many economists prior to Reagan. Additionally, Volcker did not fully clamp down on the money supply until Reagan had defeated Carter/

    As for Afghanistan, your misreading of history is complete. The Soviet imposed puppet regime was despised by almost the entire Afghani population. The Afghanis were going to be fighting in any case and the US simply assured that they would be doing so with something better than the leftovers from the Anglo-Afghani wars of the nineteenth century. The rise of the Islamic militants has nothing to do with US aid. Bin Laden and his cronies were products of Saudi Arabia and Bin Laden’s involvement in Afghanistan had nothing to do with the US effort. The Taliban came into being just before Soviet withdrawal in 1992, and were a completely indigenous Afghan creation. To blame US aid for them is fanciful.

  • Donald, that the communists were hated is true. The Reaganites clearly saw it as a godsend to create the USSR’s Vietnam. It is perhaps understandable that the Americans were itching for payback. But it does not excuse the Americans of their folly in proping up an evil Islamist military regime in neighbouring Pakistan, which has now metastasised into perhaps the greatest menace to peace. The foundation for all this was laid right under Reagan’s nose by Zia-ulHaq. Any Indian (such as myself) could have told Weinberger and co. even then that the road to peace in Afghanistan runs through Pakistan.

  • No presidency could have survived the bloodletting remedy that Mr Volcker applied.

    Ivan, you seem to have forgotten that Mr. Reagan was returned to office with 58% of the vote. I think that qualifies as ‘surviving’.

    There is a revisionist view that it was the tax cuts of Reagan, and not Volcker’s policies, that actually produced the reduction in inflation:

    The “revisionist view” is nonsense. Inflation is a monetary phenomenon, though the effects of monetary policy are intermediated through the real economy. Unless it is someone’s contention that tax cuts increase households’ propensity to hold cash balances or increase banks’ propensity to hold reserves, I cannot see how tax cuts would promote price stability. That aside, the timeline alone is incongruent with such a thesis. The tax cuts were implemented over a three year span of time with just 20% of the proportionate reduction implemented in the first year. Re-stabilization of prices had been completed by the fall of 1982 and the Federal Reserve was already relaxing monetary policy.

    For Afghanistan, Carter had offered a mere $400 million to Zia-ulHaq, which he derisively dismissed as ‘peanuts’. Ronald Reagan blundered in with his billions and CIA training,

    You are conflating two separate programs. The Carter Administration did offer Zia an aid program, quite publicly and explicitly. It also began a covert program of equipping the extant insurgency in Afghanistan.

    As for Mr. Volcker’s medicine, they began in the fall of 1979 with targets for the growth of monetary aggregates (the monetary base, M1, M2, M3). Mr. Carter insisted in March of 1980 that he replace this with a policy of credit controls because the country was heading into a recession during an election year. He re-imposed the original policy, with Mr. Reagan’s blessing, when Mr. Carter left office.

  • I was in school and learned my (little, paltry amount of) economics before they screwed up everything and decided economics was studying about everyone getting something for nothing, i.e., free lunch/income redistribution.

    Yer second worst POTUS somehow managed the impossible. His fiscal actions (spending and taxation) and whatever influence (full employment with stable prices with social spending) he exerted on the Fed, resulted in rampant inflation and rampant unemployment.

    Obama says we are soft.

    Obama Day-One Today
    Poverty 13% 14%

    Unemploy Really 14% 16%

    Median Income $52,000 $49,400

    Jobs 142,200,000 139,600,000

    Inflation 0% 3.77%

    Gasolinbe $1.82
    It wasn’t Carter’s fault. He couldn’t have done it all by his little self. He had 30 or 40 years of Dem Congresses and the Great Society unproductive additions to money supplies and cost push inflation from the Cold and Vietnam Wars, and it was Nixon’s, no Ford’s, no Eisenhower’s faults . . .

    He signed Humphrey-Hawkins in 1978, that improved the 1946 Full Employment Act. It politicized the Fed and set hard economic goals that run against each other. It confused full employment with price stability with trade balances with halitosis, all of which often move in opposite, uncorrelated or divergent directions and magnitudes.

    And, the global terror war against us would have never happened if he hadn’t “sold down the river” the Shah to be replaced by fanatical terrorists: in the name of fairness?

  • My general sense of Carter was that he was a nice guy. He seemed thoughtful.

  • Carter was and is pat a mean-spirited sanctimonious little twerp. I have written on this aspect of his character before:

  • Ivan is off base regarding the rise of militant Islam. Militant Islam as we face it today was originally fueled by Hitler, who had his mufti, as Rabbi Davis so clearly explained in his book about Pope Pius XII. That mufti was Yasser Arafat’s uncle.

    The USSR was one of the chief sources of funding and support for the PLO. The USSR helped instigate the 1973 Six Day War by providing fake intelligence to Arab states in the hope that they would destroy Israel.

    Past policies from several administrations led to the Shah taking power in Iran and to his brutal holding of that power. What replaced the Shah is far worse. Iran has been a terrorist client state for more than 30 years. Their support of Hezbollah is proof.

    Jimmy Carter was not a nice guy. He is, even today, a mean spirited and spiteful man. Yes, Carter appointed Volcker. Yes, Carter signed legislation to begin deregulation of so many parts of the economy. Yet, Carter and the arrogant beyond belief Democrat Congress wrecked the economy and emaciated the military.

    Reagan was not played by Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. They helped the Reagan Administration get rid of the brutal Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. In retrospect, the Western world did nothing to help Afghanistan after the USSR left. The USSR should have been compelled to pay war reparations to Afghanistan, but the West was too wimpy to back the old Soviet codgers into a corner. The power vacuum that filled Afghanistan should be blamed primarily on the Soviet invasion that caused so much death and destruction.

    Obumbler is truly Malaise, Part II. The four years of the Nancy Pelosi controlled House are four of the worst years economically the USA has ever faced.

  • More revisionism regarding Volcker’s role in defeating inflation:

    It is twaddle from beginning to end.

    Carter was and is pat a mean-spirited sanctimonious little twerp.

    C’mon, Donald. He has managed to stay married for sixty-odd years; his children are among the least embarrassing of presidential offspring; and, other than Gerald Ford, no occupant of that office in the last 40-odd years has been so free from being sliced up by his employees after the fact. He cannot be that bad.

    He has some character and personality defects. He has some virtues as well. Musn’t overdo it.

  • “He has managed to stay married for sixty-odd years”

    I rejoice that he and the “Steel Magnolia” kept each other out of the marital market. I recall her comment that Reagan made people “comfortable in their prejudices”. Considering the history of the Carter family and blacks, I found that rich.

    Carter of course has always been quite willing to accuse political opponents of being racists:

    These comments by former secret service agents are on a par with numerous others who had the misfortune to work under Carter:

    “But the president subject to the greatest scorn is Jimmy Carter.

    Carter is portrayed as a phony according to the agents interviewed by Kessler. Carter would put on a show for the public to convey himself as a common man, but it was never anymore than an act. For instance, we are told that when Carter would make a point of carrying his own luggage in front of the press, he was really carrying empty bags. He expected others to carry his real luggage. Unfriendly, Carter “didn’t want the police officers and agents looking at him or speaking to him when he went to the [Oval] office,” explained an assistant White House usher. “The only time I saw a smile on Carter’s face was when the cameras were going,” one former agent told Kessler.

    After his presidency, Kessler reports that when Carter would stay at a townhouse maintained for former presidents in D.C., he would take down pictures of other presidents and put up more pictures of himself! “The Carters were the biggest liars in the world,” one agent told Kessler of the Carter era.

    Carter, not surprisingly, denied to Kessler through a lawyer many of the allegations in the book.

    The man who sent Carter packing from the White House could not have been more different according to accounts from agents. Ronald Reagan would constantly interact with his secret service agents and other staffers who worked for him. He was apologetic when he would take secret service agents away from their families on holidays. While Carter would make secret service agents pay for any leftover food they consumed after White House parties, we are told Reagan would insist the secret service eat leftover food (without charge, of course).”

  • This fellow Kessler is an ‘investigative reporter’ currently employed by Newsmax. Scandal is what his stock and trade is. He is in scant danger of a defamation suit if he makes stuff up out of whole cloth. (Here he is passing along the anonymous gossip of supposed Secret Service agents). This is the sort of thing properly taken with a large hunk of rock salt.

  • Art Deco, isn’t targeting the M1, M2 and M3 growth simply a fancy and as it turned out a blunderbuss way of achieving credit control? President Carter was a successful businessman and a nuclear engineer. He probably felt that the claims of the monetarists to be able to fine tune a complex plant like the economy were bogus. He re-imposed the original policy, with Mr. Reagan’s blessing, when Mr. Carter left office. Mr Reagan would not have been too unhappy with this seeing that that the next electoral test – the midterm – was a full two years away. I come from a country where elections turn on the price of onions; timing the recovery is everything. The Reagan Democrats were looking for a robust response to the likes of Iran; they were prepared to accept some incidental pain to see it through. Overall President Reagan was a better leader through his sunny optimism and an ability to quickly learn from his mistakes. But he failed bigtime in Afghanistan, though the poor man was probably not even aware of it.

    Penguin Fan, the final cause of militant Islam is the Islamic religion itself. Nonetheless it could have done without proximate American help. Pakistan had giddy dreams over Central Asia which the American sponsored through their naivete. We Indians made matters worse with our sanctimonious lectures and congenital hypocrisy.
    The USSR should have been compelled to pay war reparations to Afghanistan…

    Go easy on this: haven’t they suffered enough already through fatuous and at times cynical American “advice”.

  • The last link does not work. Try this if required:

    Go easy on this: haven’t they suffered enough already through fatuous and at times cynical American “advice”.

  • Kessler is indeed an investigative reporter Art who in his career has worked at the Boston Herald, the Wall Street Journal and fifteen years at the Washington Post. Your sneer at his credentials is unwarranted.

  • The reference to Newsmax was for identification only (though the site has a poor reputation). It is ‘investigative reporters’ of which I am skeptical. What someone pointed out about Richard Clarke applies to anyone who writes this sort of thing – if you have no scandal, you have no book and you do not earn your advance. ‘Investigative reporter’ is a trade for people of dubious ethics for reasons inherent in how these chaps earn their living. The American Spectator and Gary Aldrich were taken to task for trading in gossip about the Clinton’s and their entourage. The thing was, the state troopers who fingered Mrs. Clinton as a terror to work for put their names on it and Aldrich was a witness to much of what he described. This fellow Kessler is trading in what career civil servants supposedly told him. Journalists reviewing the book grant other journalists professional courtesies (which Aldrich did not receive), such as not raising the possibility that much of it could be fabricated by the author or his sources. Trust car salesmen before you trust these guys.

  • Art Deco, isn’t targeting the M1, M2 and M3 growth simply a fancy and as it turned out a blunderbuss way of achieving credit control?


    Targeting interest rates had been the policy of Mr. Volcker’s two predecessors. You can see where that got us. Targeting monetary aggregates succeeded in re-stabilizing prices with 19 months of continuous application. You can say it was not worth the candle (I know a leftoid economist who does). You cannot say it was an unsuccessful policy or that there was a ready alternative to the ends it sought to achieve. James Tobin was of the opinion, ca. 1980, that restabilizing prices would require a process of adjustment of 15 years in duration. The economic recovery from the end of 1982 to the spring of 1985 was so rapid the process was completed in five years.

  • Carter was and is pat a mean-spirited sanctimonious little twerp.

    One of the standard characterizations of Carter is that he was a poor president but a nice guy. As you’ve outlined, he isn’t a nice guy either. His outsized ego was in fact one of the reasons he was such a poor president, as he could never learn to appreciate that he in fact did not know everything, and this contributed to his disastrous management style. He is, simply, a jerk.

    Worst president ever? The pre- and post-Lincoln bunglers still take the cake. Pierce was invisible, Buchanan fiddled while the country tore itself apart, and Johnson’s pigheadedness destroyed any possibility of a real reconstruction effort. Johnson’s sins were in particular egregious as he lacked Lincoln’s ability to mollify the radical Republicans in Congress. So we had two extreme factions – one in the White House and one in Congress – and no clear leadership.

  • One of the standard characterizations of Carter is that he was a poor president but a nice guy. As you’ve outlined, he isn’t a nice guy either.

    I have to say that in 30-odd years of reading newspapers, I have never seen Jimmy Carter characterized as a ‘nice guy’. Mr. Ford and Mr. Reagan and the elder Mr. Bush, certainly; Mr. Nixon and Mr. Carter, no. The toothy grin aside, his public persona was fairly sober and even melancholy. The complaint that he was mean of spirit was heard from time to time as well, though it was a minority view. I do not think his ethics were much questioned, though there was the complaint (from Michael Kinsley, among others) that he had a habit of cynical reversals of policy undertaken without even acknowledging the reversal.

    Lot’s of folk are not affable. That really is not a character defect or worthy of much critical comment except among sales managers. There is no reason to savage Mr. Carter for his common-and-garden human flaws. Messrs. Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton, and even Nixon provide ample fodder for that sort of commentary.

  • Worst president ever?

    The functions of the federal government have varied so over time that I am not sure why you would attempt to evaluate them in a common pool.

  • In regard to pre Civil War presidents Paul, Buchanan will always have my top slot for worst President.

    In regard to Carter, he believes that we are currently more polarized than we were during the Civil War, indicating that he must have slept through the American history classes at Annapolis. He also states that he enjoyed a bipartisan relationship with Congress during his term of office which is simply delusional.

  • IIRC, Mr. Carter had rather cold relations with all components of Congress.

    At the time, however, roughly 20% of those in Congress had a set of policy preferences closer to the median of the opposition caucus than to the median of their own caucus. I think the use of Cadillac filibusters and holds was more sparing then, so there were more opportunites for bipartisanship of a sort than the younger Mr. Bush would have had.


Friday, September 30, AD 2011


Hattip to Mrs. Darwin at my co-blogger Darwin Catholic’s eponymous blog, for the following book meme questions:


1. Favorite childhood book?
American Heritage Golden Book of the Civil War

2. What are you reading right now?
Early Byzantine Historians; The Road to Disunion:   Secessionists at Bay;  A World on Fire;  Lincoln’s Sword;  Bismarck:  A Life.

3. What books do you have on request at the library?

4. Bad book habit?
Buying way, way too many as my basement library can attest.
5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?

6. Do you have an e-reader?
My I-pad is a surprisingly good e-reader.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
 I have always read several books at a time.  I am a slow reader and a few pages from several books each day suits my pace.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?

9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)
A series on US Presidents I read through with my autistic son.  Even for a kid’s series the research was abysmal.

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?
A World on Fire, a comprehensive look at Britain’s role in out Civil War, by Amanda Foreman, Phd from Oxford and mother of five young kids.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
Every day, mostly while browsing the net.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?
Science fiction, alternate history, fantasy, history and politics.

13. Can you read on the bus?
Presumably not, as I have difficulty reading in a car on the rare occasions when I am not driving.

14. Favorite place to read?
In bed.  A grand way to end the day.

15. What is your policy on book lending?
Open-handed.  I like to encourage people to read.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?
Never, although my wife does, one of her few imperfections.

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14 Responses to Bookquisition

  • Your basement sounds like mine, Don. And I still have about 50% of my collection in a storage shed. We’re also reading the excellent “Early Byzantine Historians,” too, I see. Given how expensive or flat-out unavailable (in English) most of the primary sources are, it’s invaluable. Treadgold hasn’t written a clunker yet.

  • Oh, and I still have my copy of the AH Golden Book of the Civil War–I prevailed upon my parents to buy it for me when we visited Gettysburg. A brilliant condensation of the original for younger readers. Not dumbed down in the slightest. I have to admit I loved the panoramas of the battles. My eldest son is starting to show some interest in the conflict, so I am going to hand it off.

  • Are you referring to Reagan’s An American Life? I thought the first half was interesting, but the second half of it revolved around the subtleties of diplomatic communications. I didn’t think of it as a reflection of worsening Alzheimer’s. I think he was just that interested in economic and political matters in his first term and international affairs in his second. You could be right, though.

    Oh, and which is more intimidating: The Brothers Karamazov or The Divine Comedy? It’s funny how much less intimidating some books seem once you’ve “beaten” them.

  • I just got done with his section on Procopius Dale. I have found few historians who elicit more divergent views and theories than Belisarius’ Boswell.

    The panoramas in the Golden Book were stunning and started me down the wargaming path.

  • “Oh, and which is more intimidating: The Brothers Karamazov or The Divine Comedy?”

    The Divine Comedy without a doubt Pinky. No novice should attempt it except with a well annotated version. The Grand Inquisitor might disagree with me that it is more difficult than the B-Ks however. 🙂

  • The Divine Comedy is somewhat intimidating. I found myself jumping back and forth between the text and the footnotes, since I often couldn’t recognize what he was referring to. I was unable to read Goethe’s Faust. That had to have been the worst for me. It just made no sense. I had read Dr. Faustes and knew of the legend. But Goethe’s play made no sense to me. I grew bored with Milton’s Paradise Lost. Among the classics, Les Miserable, though long, was one of the easiest reads for me.

  • Among Christian works, I would recommend Solomon among the Postmoderns by Peter Leithart. Superb! Also, anything by New Testament scholar N. T. Wright. And of course everything C. S. Lewis has ever written.

  • I have treasured pat everything I have ever read by CS Lewis.

  • Mrs. McClarey dog-ears books? I can’t believe it! Not that I’m above dog-earing, but how can a librarian do it? I sure hope the Librarian Guild doesn’t find out, they’ll probably pull her membership card – that or assign her to something lame like organizing the periodicals alphabetically and by date.

  • (Guest comment by Don’s wife Cathy:) Now you know why I ended up working at Don’s office, RL! ;(
    RE: Brothers Karamazov vs. Divine Comedy — I’ve read the Divine Comedy (& highly recommend the Viking Portable Dante edition — excellent translation & footnotes; I’ve also read bits of John Ciardi’s translation, but not all the way through). Haven’t read the Brothers Karamazov yet; don’t see a real need to (beyond a cultural literacy/”Cliff Notes” knowledge of the plot), so I guess that would be more intimidating for me.
    Speaking of Cliff Notes, I loved the Classics Illustrated comic books as a kid (gave me tastes of a lot of great stories before my reading skills/vocabulary/attention span were up to tackling the originals), and was happy to find reprints of many of them (often done ostensibly as “Cliff Notes”-style study guides to the unabridged books) which I could share with our own 3 kids when they were younger.

  • Is your wife in agreement that the best thing in bed is reading, and do you usually have the mustard and chips in that location? TMI

    Had to give up reading in bed when the eyes started growing tired. Miss it. But reading on the deck in the summer is a good second fulfilling location.

  • I never eat in bed Elizabeth. My wife is equally enamored of reading in bed. Our three kids attest that reading is not all we have done in that location over the years. 🙂

  • Faust – now that’s intimidating. I’m afraid of anything that was originally written in German. No disrespect to our Holy Father; I just don’t understand how anyone can think in that language.

  • Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man and Orthodoxy are worth reading. Dorothy Sayers’ The MInd of the Maker, too. And The Priesthood of Adam and an Offering of Uncles (forget who wrote it).

    Yes, I was struck by the apparent oddity of Faust. A little too creative, or too far from my understanding of the world, perhaps. And very difficult to read.

    Craig Barnhouse’s When God Interrupts is I think a very profound though extremely popular book aimed at a lay audience.

Who Needs Elections, Anyway?

Thursday, September 29, AD 2011

Whenever I see that someone has said something insanely stupid, I often check the source and try to dig deeper to make sure there’s not more to the story than meets the eyes.  So I was initially skeptical when I heard that Governor Bev Purdue said the following:

“You have to have more ability from Congress, I think, to work together and to get over the partisan bickering and focus on fixing things. I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won’t hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover. I really hope that someone can agree with me on that. The one good thing about Raleigh is that for so many years we worked across party lines. It’s a little bit more contentious now but it’s not impossible to try to do what’s right in this state. You want people who don’t worry about the next election.”

Surely she can’t be serious.  A sitting governor could not possibly be advocating the suspension of elections, could she?

Well her team went into immediate spin mode and claimed that she was just exaggerating.

Later Tuesday afternoon, Perdue’s office clarified the remarks: “Come on,” said spokeswoman Chris Mackey in a statement. “Gov. Perdue was obviously using hyperbole to highlight what we can all agree is a serious problem: Washington politicians who focus on their own election instead of what’s best for the people they serve.”

Only she wasn’t exaggerating, she was being sarcastic.

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10 Responses to Who Needs Elections, Anyway?

  • Gov. Perdue has a point: our political cycles have a periodicity that is too short. There is one other thing: there comes a point in the life of nations where the dynamics that operate among the political class render constitutional processes less likely to secure order and justice than an authoritarian arrangement. (The history of Uruguay between 1955 and 1973 is sadly relevant). I think we are closer to such a state than you appreciate.

  • The only point Governor Perdue has is doubtless at the top of her skull. We had elections during the American Revolution, all the economic upheavals of the nineteenth century, during both World Wars and throughout the Cold War. During our Civil War, when the nation was engaged in an immense struggle with itself, both sides held regular elections. When the heroes of Flight 93 had to decide whether to rush the hijackers they took a vote. Voting is essential to the way we Americans view the world; it is built into our political DNA as a people. In the truest sense of the word, Governor Perdue’s proposal was deeply un-American.

  • I understand that elections have been held in inclement circumstances, but critiquing that practice is not my point nor is it hers. (N.B. Britain postponed parliamentary elections during the 2d World War).

    Incorporated in the Governor’s comments is the notion that the balance of time and attention between making public policy and electioneering is severely out of whack as we speak. We hold federal elections every two years in this country rather than the three year cycle that is about normal in Canada and New Zealand or the four year cycle in Britain. The internal structure of our political parties puts a heavy fund-raising burden on our legislators as well. Quadrennial federal elections and a transfer of fund-raising duties to the political party apparat would be helpful.

  • (N.B. Britain postponed parliamentary elections during the 2d World War).

    Yes and they have had National Unity Governments of all parties during times of crisis and various other bad ideas that make me say for at least the thousandth time, “Thank God for 1776!”

    Elections are not the problem Art, and calling politicians to account at frequent elections is a feature and not a bug of our system. If anything gerrymandering and making too many seats safe for one party so elections are not a serious contest greatly contribute to the poor leadership from our political class. Postponing elections or amending the Constitution to elect House members for four year terms would exacerbate, rather than solve, this problem.

  • There is little hope, either way. They keep voting for baboons and idiots that promise something for nothing.

    Our only hope is to limit guvmint’s power to inadvertently destroy we the people.

    It’s prtobably too late.

  • Croakers have always been with us T.Shaw from the earliest days of the Republic. In spite of them a fair amount of good has been accomplished by the American people since the foundation of the Republic, and quite a bit of good remains to be accomplished.

  • Mark Twain: “If you don’t read the papers, you are uninformed. If you read the papers, you are misinformed.”

    “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”
    – Mark Twain, a Biography

    Agreed: a fair amount of good has been accomplished by we the people . . . Not much by big guvmint.

    Gibbon “Decline and Fall . . . “ paraphrased: “An educated, well-informed populous, possessed of arms, tenacious of property, and collected into constitutional assemblies form the only balance capable of preserving a free constitution against the enterprises of an aspiring prince (despotism).”

    “ . . the people of Rome, viewing with a secret pleasure the humiliation of the aristocracy demanded only bread and public shows.” Augustus had destroyed the aristocracy, the Praetorian Guards ran rampant; people were reduced to wards of the state. The army was professional and not made up of the citizenry, which was dependent, disarmed and disenfranchised.

    Does any of that sound familair?

  • Actually T.Shaw, some of the Founding Fathers in their older and crankier years quoted Gibbon when lamenting that the Republic they had created was going to Hell in a handbasket. Such laments are timeless. Sometimes they are also timely, but not usually.

  • Elections are not the problem Art

    To some extent, they are. The following problems are manifest:

    1. Barnacles and fried circuits:

    There was a great multiplication in the number and variety of offices subject to election during the Jacksonian period. The ballots we get here in New York are just hopeless. Regularity of scheduling and a reduction in the number of offices so subject would expand the capacity of the electorate to make informed choices. That in and of itself suggests quadrennial scheduling.

    2. Rapid cycling of offices may promote ‘accountability’, but only if you assume the effects of policies are fully manifest on two-year intervals. The restoration of price stability in 1979-82 is an example of a salutary public policy that it took more than two years to implement.

    3. Rapid cycling of offices also changes the recruitment patterns in political life. Right now, our system has given an escalating advantage to politicians talented at fund-raising and striking poses, because that is what they do half the time. (The current president is a fairly pure example of this tendency).


    Containing the effects of gerrymandering is going to require innovations in the architecture of electoral systems. Refusal to consider any sort of constitutional innovation is an ingrained element of the political culture we have.

    I understand there were antecedent arguments for the various aspects of our constitutional architecture and that there are post hoc apologetics for it. The wrecked and dysfunctional quality of it remain no matter what is said about it.

  • “The ballots we get here in New York are just hopeless.”

    I think that pretty well sums up the view of much of the country about New York Art! 🙂 (The joke would be funnier to me if I were not in Illinois.) Not having voted in New York I cannot judge the state of the ballot, but I do not think multiplicity of offices or frequency of balloting, at least on a two year schedule, would be daunting to an informed citizenry. Of course that last is a large part of the problem, not only in New York, but around the country.

    In the 19th century Art, radical and routine shifts in control of Congress were the norm, a result of voters paying close attention to what their reps were up to in Washington and making their displeasure known frequently. It ensured that when one party had control they enacted their agenda as rapidly as possible, which I think is preferable to the eternal grid lock that is now the norm. When a new party came to power they could repeal laws previously enacted that had proven to be failures or unpopular with the voters.

    We do not have rapid cycling of offices Art. Until very recently the re-election numbers for most members of Congress were obscenely high. I hope we are beginning to enter a new era when a substantial number of Congressional seats will be true contests each elections.

The Paradoxes of Economic Measures

Thursday, September 29, AD 2011

I am not an economist, and I don’t claim to have anything close to useful knowledge in the area.  However, like many areas in which I have little knowledge, I find that I have lots of question.  Economics is a particularly interesting field in that two “experts” can examine the same problem and come up with solutions that seem diametrically opposed.  I put “experts” in quotes because I sense that the discrepancy of opinions lies more in politics than it does in the discipline itself.  By its very nature, the science of economics intersects the arena of politics, hence the phrase “economic policy.”  The down side of this is that even the “orthodox” positions, those on which nearly all economists agree, can be colored for political purposes.  In general, it seems that any social science has something of this.  For whatever reason, the “hard” sciences produce less public controversy.  Perhaps this has to to with the relative ease of experimentation in the hard sciences when compared with the social sciences.  Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the social science have as their subject the human person, which by nature cannot be reduced to overly rationalistic or mechanistic behavior.  Not being an expert in either hard sciences or social sciences, I can only speculate.

Yet despite my near total lack of experience and absolute total lack of expertise, it strangely enough doesn’t seem to hinder me from thinking about paradoxes in the field, or at the very least “perceived” paradoxes.  One such paradox that has kept me up at night, (well, let’s not go that far), is the obsession that political economics has with using GDP/GNP for measuring the health of the nation’s economy.  Now, let’s not go off the deep end here; I am not saying to toss the measure out the window altogether.  But consider the following relatively useless mental exercise.*

We all have household tasks to perform: mowing the lawn, washing the dishes, cooking meals, even watching our children.  We do perform these tasks willingly, and no one pays us to perform them.  The services themselves don’t contribute to the GDP.  Now, one day, my neighbor and I become concerned about the GDP and decide to do something to help it out.  We agree to take some of these services, say mowing the lawn and washing the dishes, and hire each other to do them.  I pay him $20 to mow my lawn and an additional $30 to wash my dishes every week.  Thus, I am hiring him for $50 a week, or $2600 per year.  Now, let’s be honest, with five kids, I can hardly afford to pay someone to do these menial tasks for me, so I get my neighbor to agree to pay me $50 per week to mow his lawn and do his dishes, coincidentally just enough to cover my new annual $2600 expense.  In total, we have collectively contributed $5200 per year to the GDP.  Yet our lives have not changed in the least, neither in income or standard of living.  Further, our workload has not really changed at all.  Yet we have now contributed to the GDP.

To make the mental exercise even more absurd, after a month of doing this, we decide that it is a real inconvenience.  My neighbor simply doesn’t want to walk across the street to mow my lawn and do my dishes.  However, he doesn’t want to give up his new-found $2600 profit.  He decides to subcontract this work out to a poor soul who will be willing to do the work for half the price, $1300.  That poor soul ends up being me.  In other words, I am paying my neighbor $2600 a year to mow my lawn and do my dishes, and he in turn is paying me $1300 to do this work for him.  I, in turn, play the same game with him.  He pays my $2600 a year to mow his lawn and do his dishes, and I hire him for $1300 a year to do his own work.  The net result of this is as follows.  We have added $5200+$2600 = $7800 a year to the GDP, yet the net change to my fiscal situation is $0 (likewise for my neighbor), and the net change in my workload is 0.  (I am mowing my own lawn and doing my own dishes, just like I was before we had our brilliant idea.)

To exaggerate this even further, because we have now become obsessed with our own brilliance, my neighbor and I decide to up the ante by multiplying all of our payments by 1,000,000.  (Of course, we will have to take out loans for this, but once the banks recognize our raw intelligence and entrepreneurial spirit, they will be fighting to give us loans.)  We have now contributed to the GDP $7,800,000,000, or 7.8 billion dollars, all for mowing our own lawn and doing or own dishes.

While I am admittedly unclear on the exact accounting of such an experiment (for instance should the subcontracting fees be deducted from the profits), something of this already exists when trying to compare the GDP in the United State over long periods of time.  In the last two-hundred years, the GDP in our county has grown enormously, yet the figure overstates the growth in production over the that time period.  Two-hundred years ago, far more people (most people?) produced their own food and many of their own possessions (clothing, etc.).  As self-produced, these activities and products were “off the ledger” of the GDP, so to speak.  Perhaps the biggest change came when many women moved from the home into the workforce.  Activities once done for no monetary exchange were now part of the GDP calculation: housekeeping, child care, cooking, etc.  The affect of this was essentially one of accounting: much of this activity moved from “off the ledger” to “on the ledger.”  The activity itself didn’t necessarily change, nor did the production of goods and services (yes, this oversimplifies the situation), yet the GDP was grossly affected by the accounting move.

The same sort of game can be played with unemployment rates.  The unemployment rate is calculated by dividing the number of unemployed individuals by the size of the labor force.  An “unemployed individual” is defined as someone who is not currently working by is willing to work for pay.  In the midst of our recession/double-dip-recession/ whatever-the-experts-are-calling-the-current-situation, no number has been tossed around the news media more than the unemployment rate.  However, this number is just as easily manipulated.  For instance, let’s take every household in which one of the two parents stays home decides simultaneously, “I want a job.”  All of a sudden, even though the financial situation of the country has not changed, the unemployment rate goes through the roof.

On the other hand, suppose every one of these parents decides to engage in a deal such as between me and my neighbor.  Maybe they decide to pay each other to watch their own children for the day.  Now we have the opposite effect: the unemployment rate goes down.

In the interest of attempting some sort of pseudo-rational analysis, I suppose that these numbers are not entirely absurd if only because people don’t act in ways proposed by my two mental exercises.  Nevertheless, it does make one question how much stake we put into a system that relies almost solely on quantifying economic behavior, which is essentially human behavior.  I want to be careful here to once again separate the discipline of economics from the politics of economics.  I cannot in good conscience speak for a discipline of which I have so little experience, but I can speak to the way in which numbers such as GDP and unemployment rate are used (and abused?) by the news media which makes its way into my living room.

In the interest of giving the discipline itself the benefit of the doubt, I will assume that it has as its goal to both measure and increase the well-being of citizens.  (Actually, does not every discipline have this as a sort of telos, each with its own methodology?)  If so, should not the measure of economic well-being somehow take into account how well the beings actually are?  And surely this is a larger question than one of just exchange of dollars and cents.

Further, even if the discipline limits itself to the question of economic well-being (however that is defined), surely the two mental experiments show that the current methods are not at all adequate, despite their preferential treatment in popular conversation.  I have a sneaky suspicion that respectable economists realize this in their theoretical work, yet because it is theoretical and altruistic (I use that word as a compliment), the message is drowned out in the overly-pragmatic popular press which likes to grab on to easily digestible but often misunderstood or misused measurements such as GDP and unemployment rate.

In the current climate in which we find ourselves, there seems to be an inherent contradiction in terms.  More than any other time in my short history, folks are talking about not spending money, about being responsible with their finances.  In short, people are quite concerned about being economical with their resources, financial or otherwise.  Yet according the measure such as GDP and unemployment rate, acting in a way we deem “economical” is one of the most un-economic things we can do.  I speak here not form the level of an individual consumer, for the act of “not spending” often involves investing, even if it be in something as simply as a savings account, which by any measures grows the economy.  As a good friend wrote to me, “Rather than focusing on wisdom, responsibility, and prudent management of resources, the popular discussion focusses single-mindedly on improving questionable measures of national well-being;  As a result, gimmicks rule the conversation and common-sense gets lost in the commotion.”**

I beg you not to misconstrue my point – I am not suggesting that there is no place for numerical measures in the life of the economy.  I am not even saying that there is no place for the specific measures of GDP and the unemployment rate.  Rather, I am suggesting that such measures not “rule the conversation.”  The conversation should instead be ruled by solid philosophy.  And as a good Aristotelian, I suggest we begin with the highest ideas, such as the “happy life”, or “fulfillment.”  Rather than measuring raw dollars and percent growth in spending/income, perhaps we should be thinking about how fulfilled people are, how much closer (or farther?) are they from being “fully human”, and how economic policy can work to bring about the “happy life”.  Did not the philosophers of old define a good society as one in which the greatest number of individuals are able to achieve their telos as human person?  Surely economic measures and policies should keep the proverbial end in sight if they are to be anything that remotely resembles a success?


Soap box abandoned.


*  This exercise was not of my own creation.  It is a modified version of a situation describe by Joseph Pearce in Small Is Still Beautiful: Economics as if the Family Matters.

**  I am highly indebted to Bill M. for reviewing this post for me.  Unlike myself, Bill actually does have some background in economics, and my ideas, while more than likely still flawed, are at least clearer because of his input, much of which made its way into the final version.  In some cases, I have used his wording.  Nevertheless, any errors in perception or thinking are still mine and mine alone.

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11 Responses to The Paradoxes of Economic Measures

  • In the interest of attempting some sort of pseudo-rational analysis, I suppose that these numbers are not entirely absurd if only because people don’t act in ways proposed by my two mental exercises.

    But people do act this way! Perhaps not with a net outcome of zero, but the behavior is very similar. How many mothers have to pay someone to watch her children while she goes to work to watch other mother’s children? There are examples of this exact behavior all over the country. The result is not a real increase in productivity, but an increase in the cost of that productivity. You know, the ole dual income trap.

  • Jenny,

    Yes, I agree. Later in the post I wrote, “Perhaps the biggest change came when many women moved from the home into the workforce. Activities once done for no monetary exchange were now part of the GDP calculation: housekeeping, child care, cooking, etc. The affect of this was essentially one of accounting: much of this activity moved from “off the ledger” to “on the ledger.””

    Your point is well taken. Thanks for reading!

  • There’s a reason to thinking that the amount of paid commercial work going on (as opposed to people doing work themselves without pay) is some sort of indicator of how much work is getting done in that generally when you hire someone to do work this results in specialization, which in turn creates efficiency, which means that more work is actually getting done in the same number of hours.

    So, for example, if instead of hiring a neighbor to mow your lawn, you hired a professional lawn service, it’s moderately likely that they’d get the law mowing done faster than you would. (Both from experience and from having bigger/faster mowers, etc.)

    The which is to say that while something like GDP can, as you point out, be gamed, it’s going to tend to be the case most of the time that when GDP goes up more stuff is getting done.

    That said, it’s clearly a rough measure and acting as if it’s some sort of measure of “good” is clearly way off.

    There have, incidentally, been a lot of attempts by economists over the last 10-20 years to look at things such a “total happiness” in order to get a more human view of the economy. Of course, the problem is that measuring happiness much, much harder than measuring dollars, so while it may in some sense get more at the heart of the matter it’s so hard to measure that most “happiness research” is a little hard to do much with.

  • I would rather deal with paradoxes in quantum physics than the paradoxes of economic measures.

  • Perhaps the biggest change came when many women moved from the home into the workforce. Activities once done for no monetary exchange were now part of the GDP calculation: housekeeping, child care, cooking, etc.
    -Jake Tawney

    Then perhaps the second biggest change came when, in the first half of the 20th century, many women moved out of the workforce (as housekeepers, governesses, cooks, etc. in the homes of the professional and upper classes) and mostly back into their own homes.

    Yes, measures such as GDP are only approximations of what most people, including economists, would really like to know. Dr. Anthony Ricci, in his book The Science Before Science, exhorts his reader to remain aware of the limitations of a science’s methods and what is being abstracted away in order to obtain an answer to a question. We’d much rather know if total happiness has gone up or down but the sum of monetary transactions is so much easier to measure. Those monetary transactions do tell us a lot about people’s preferences – their genuine preferences in a world that requires choices and trade-offs as opposed to mere expressions of wishful thinking.

    Still, cultural changes can rock the GDP. Suppose millions of young American adults decided to live in smaller homes, drive fewer and more modest cars, and acquire less ‘stuff’ in order to have more family time and one stay-at-home parent for the benefit of their kids. GDP would fall yet, because people are following their choices, an economist can’t say there’s less happiness. Maybe econometricians would begin to borrow from cosmologists and physicists and talk about invisible “dark value”, yes?

  • I myself am a living economic paradox in that I manage to maintain a household, purchase many goods and services, and provide others with information for free that they then utilize to make far more money than I do, in a job that supposedly produces nothing and creates no wealth. I speak, of course, of government (state) employment.

    Yes, I understand that government cannot create wealth in the same way that the private sector does, and that everything government gives with one hand (including my own paycheck and insurance benefits) is taken away from someone else via taxes with the other — all the more reason why I work hard to insure I am really earning those benefits. And I understand that relying on government to provide everyone with jobs will never work and will cause more harm than good.

    Still, when hardcore economic conservatives/libertarians get really insistent about the notion of government NEVER creating wealth, I can’t help but at least chuckle a bit… if that were absolutely literally true, then D.C., state capitals and public university towns would be some of the poorest places on earth.

  • “if that were absolutely literally true, then D.C., state capitals and public university towns would be some of the poorest places on earth.”

    And so they would be Elaine if they did not grow fat, parasitically, from tax dollars.

    In regard to public universities, I spend some $27,000.00 a year to send my son to my alma mater the U of I, so there is plenty of private money also going to those institutions. If they did not have the privileged position as gate keepers into various professions in our society, I doubt if private money would flow to them in such quanities, since my son, for example, seems to be learning far more from from his private reading than from his classes. I had a similar experience during my college years, although back in those days it was possible to raise the funds for college through part time work, and my parents did not have to contribute to my college expenses. For the value received, higher education has become immensely over-priced. I hope that higher ed scandals, such as the one currently besetting the law school I attended, also at the U of I, will help cause the bursting of the education bubble which has now become expensive beyond belief.

  • Very good! I am an economist and have also thought about these things. GDP, income, employment, etc. are not the best measures of well-being but as Darwin pointed out, they are the best we have to work with.

    There are many measures and all need to be looked at and discussed before drawing major conclusions such as…GDP went down, our economy must be failing.

    I put a lot of emphasis on unemployment because I think it is a better indicator of well-being than GDP. If someone is unemployed and looking for work but can’t find it, they are denied the opportunity to provide for themselves and their family, expresses their dignity through self initiative/creativity, contribute to society, etc.

    You point out correctly that this can be gamed and unemployment doesn’t take into account the family’s total income or well-being, but unlike GDP (which is a national aggregate and doesnt indicate the allocation of that income/production), it indicates that there are people who want a job but can’t find one–a sort of direct measure of unhappiness or lack of well-being/development.

    But, I whole-heartedly agree that well-being can hardly be measured by what is essentially money or money-denominated figures.

    How would you propose we measure how well our economy is doing? or how would you measure more well-being more broadly such as fulfillment or achieving telos?

  • Also, Elaine:

    Gov’t doesn’t spend our tax dollars. Tax dollars are destroyed. Spending creates dollars. Gov’ts tax in order to give their currency value, if they didn’t nobody would accept them or use them. If they tax too little, their value would also go down, but that does not mean that taxes must equal spending, in fact, that will rarely be the case.

    It is good that you wish to be a responsible employee because our gov’t MUST spend its dollars wisely in order to be effective, but you are not earning your income from other people’s taxes. Your income is literally created out of nothing.

    That is unless you are a state or local government employee, in which case you are earning other people’s taxes because state and local governments must use the national gov’ts currency. They do not issue their own.

    Also, the gov’t doesnt create “real” wealth, but it does create financial wealth which directs resources toward the creation of real wealth. It can spend its money to direct labor and capital toward the creation of lets say roads and bridges which are real wealth, but the actual creation of that real wealth is done by people and capital (also created by people) who are paid by the government (directly or indirectly).

    Sorry, I don’t mean to be nit-picky, but understanding it properly does have major implications, such as, the ‘government can’t go bankrupt’.

  • Sorry for the typos, I need to proof read my comments.

  • “Your income is literally created out of nothing, that is, unless you are a state or local government employee”

    I am a state government employee. And I agree that tax dollars can be inflated and misused. But destroyed? Sorry, but that money HAS to be going somewhere, it isn’t just being tossed in a giant incinerator. It may not be going where it ought to, of course, but it’s going somewhere (even if simply into the pockets of corrupt contractors, lobbyists, etc).

    This kind of reminds me of the old arguments against spending money on the space program on the grounds that the money needed to “stay on Earth.” Well, the money DID stay on earth — it was spent on contracts to build the various space vehicles, on technology research and development, etc. Money spent on the space program was not literally launched into orbit or dumped on the moon where it could never be used again.

    Also, if “too little” taxation means that the value of dollars goes down, why then do so many fiscal conservatives think tax cuts stimulate the economy?

Social Security is Not a Ponzi Scheme

Thursday, September 29, AD 2011


Top Ten Reasons Why Social Security is not a Ponzi Scheme:

1.  Ponzi scheme participation is voluntary, unlike Social Security where participation is mandatory for most citizens.

2.  Ponzi scheme participants usually receive brightly colored reports telling them how much illusory interest their investments are earning.  Social Security participants make do with drab annual reports.

3.  When a Ponzi scheme goes bust the perpetrators can be sued for damages.  Good luck suing the Feds after Social Security goes belly up!

4.  Participants in a Ponzi scheme do not lose their claim against the perpetrators upon death, unlike people who die prior to receiving a check from Social Security.

5.  Ponzi schemes usually have few to no solid assets that can be seized by participants.  Social Security has endless IOUs signed by Uncle Sam.

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27 Responses to Social Security is Not a Ponzi Scheme

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  • If it wasn’t for SS, I’d be homeless. I paid in, now collect. What’s wrong with that?

  • Joe,
    First, I don’t think SS is really a Ponzi scheme as such (because the government can always insure payment by raising taxes or printing money), but it is a very poorly designed defined benefit plan in that it is not funded by what retirees paid into it but by what current workers can afford to pay. This can be workable if the commitments are fairly modest since demographic changes such as the number of workers, life expectency, etc. can be accommodated for modest committments, but our committments are not remotely small. Also, for many decades we have consistently enriched benefits for those who paid in amounts that were actuarily based on smaller benefits. Most retirees today are receiving present value benefits with far in excess of their present value payments. That is nothing more than a redistribution of wealth from workers to retirees. There is no moral basis for this whatsoever. It’s just a money grab from by the politically powerful.

  • Well, Mike, when you get to be my age you look at things differently. I worked full-time nearly 50 years and it was the only way I could “save” toward retirement. I, along with millions of others and their employers, was forced to contribute. Had the money been invested wisely, like a private plan, it would have paid dividends and been able to make a profit and sustain itself. SS is not broke. That is a myth. It’s been raided over the years and mismanaged but there is enough in the kitty to pay everyone entitled even with an aging population.

  • Raise the retirement age! When SS was started life expectancy was about 63. Retirement age should be raised to 70+. If you want or need to retire before then, it’s up to your own savings and/or family. This is going to create some extreme inter-generational bad feelings if folks my age (32) have our taxes raised to keep SS solvent when we’re trying to raise our families. Most of my friends under age 45 don’t think SS will be there for them when they retire. I give as much credence to those “statements” that come in the mail from SS as I do to sweepstakes junk mail.

  • “I paid in, now collect. What’s wrong with that?”

    For you it is doubtless a good deal Joe. For my kids it is a very bad deal indeed. The essence of any Ponzi scheme is that the first in line reap a fairly good return and the last in line end up with the empty sack. Of course my kids will do far worse than the empty sack since they will have huge bills to pay for the privilege of holding the empty sack, something that does not happen in regular go-to-jail Ponzi schemes.

  • “SS is not broke. That is a myth. It’s been raided over the years and mismanaged but there is enough in the kitty to pay everyone entitled even with an aging population.”

    There is nothing in the “kitty” Joe. Social Security taxes go into the same pot as regular income taxes, and is paid out from the same pot. Social security is broke because the federal government is broke. All the talk over the years about social security lock boxes and investments is the sheerest blue smoke and mirrors.

  • Pacem, Joe and Mac,

    I think SS yet brings in more FICA tax receipts than it pays out in benefits. Today, it is not “broke.” OTOH, if the gubmint had to comply with ERISA . . .

    Soon enough, SS will need to pay out of liquidating its “assets”, i.e., nonmarket US Treasury debt. In order to pay from that source, our congress of baboons will need to tax someone or print money (inflation is a tax).

    And, there just aren’t enough millionaires!

  • Don, et al…When have you ever heard a government — national, state or local — say that it had too much money? Or a surplus? Practically never. We are always being told that we’re “broke” and “can’t afford” this or that, but there always seems to be money there for foreign aid, fighting dubious wars, pork projects, you-name-it. It’s the same old mantra designed to keep the hoi polloi in a state of perpetual fear or distracted from other problems.

    Secondly, the implication that somehow those who paid in early are now reaping unfair benefits is bogus because the dollars that went in were worth a lot more than they are now. The dollar I put in the kitty in 1960, factoring in inflation and devaluation, is probably worth 20 cents today. No one ever got rich collecting SS, believe me. It’s a safety net and an essential one. Would I have been wiser to invest that money on my own? Probably. Would I have done so regularly? Probably not.

    The “government” is supposed to be We the People, not some separate entity. It is all of us, acting collectively for the common good and “general welfare.”

    Years ago, when I was walking the streets of NYC one day, I had three dollars in my pocket and was approached by a bum asking me for a dollar. I gave it to him because I had 3 and he had none. So, even with 2 in my pocket, I still had one more than him. To me that was an act of charity. I didn’t ask him what he was going to do with the dollar. Isn’t Christianity about compassion? I don’t see much when it comes to taking care of either the very old or the very young in America any more.

  • “It’s a safety net and an essential one.”

    It’s a welfare program Joe, plain and simple. The average recipient today makes about $60,000 more in benefits, after adjusting for inflation, over the dollars paid in. Earlier generations reaped a much larger bonanza. Future generations will pay in far more than they ever receive back, and this generational unfairness will utlimately lead to the repeal of social security. People simply will not stand for paying 17 cents on the dollar which is what will be the social security rate be around 2035, probably much earlier due to Social Security using rosy economic projections.

    “Social Security expenditures exceeded the program’s non-interest income in 2010 for the first time since 1983. The $49 billion deficit last year (excluding interest income) and $46 billion projected deficit in 2011 are in large part due to the weakened economy and to downward income adjustments that correct for excess payroll tax revenue credited to the trust funds in earlier years. This deficit is expected to shrink to about $20 billion for years 2012-2014 as the economy strengthens. After 2014, cash deficits are expected to grow rapidly as the number of beneficiaries continues to grow at a substantially faster rate than the number of covered workers. Through 2022, the annual cash deficits will be made up by redeeming trust fund assets from the General Fund of the Treasury. Because these redemptions will be less than interest earnings, trust fund balances will continue to grow. After 2022, trust fund assets will be redeemed in amounts that exceed interest earnings until trust fund reserves are exhausted in 2036, one year earlier than was projected last year. Thereafter, tax income would be sufficient to pay only about three-quarters of scheduled benefits through 2085.

    Under current projections, the annual cost of Social Security benefits expressed as a share of workers’ taxable wages will grow rapidly from 11-1/2 percent in 2007, the last pre-recession year, to roughly 17 percent in 2035, and will then dip slightly before commencing a slow upward march after 2050. Costs display a slightly different pattern when expressed as a share of GDP. Program costs equaled roughly 4.2 percent of GDP in 2007, and are projected to increase gradually to 6.2 percent of GDP in 2035 and then decline to about 6.0 percent of GDP by 2050 and remain at about that level. ”

    Anyone who is below 35 and who thinks social security will be there for them when they retire is very much mistaken.

  • “Secondly, the implication that somehow those who paid in early are now reaping unfair benefits is bogus because the dollars that went in were worth a lot more than they are now. The dollar I put in the kitty in 1960, factoring in inflation and devaluation, is probably worth 20 cents today. No one ever got rich collecting SS, believe me. It’s a safety net and an essential one. Would I have been wiser to invest that money on my own? Probably. Would I have done so regularly? Probably not.”

    First, you are dead wrong in your present value assumption. Since you are retired, you should have the time to look it up — this stuff is hardly a secret and has been true for a long time. In fact, that is the true “raiding” of the system.
    And it is wrong to tax hard-working young people trying to raise their families simply because you were not wise enough to save. I know one young man who makes $29.5K per year and is saving $5K. He lives very frugally, and does not have much, but he would be insulted at the suggestion that he was impoverished.
    As far as a safety net is concerned, that is the key. The dirty little secret is that Social Security is not a forced savings system at all. It is simply a transfer of money from the currently young to the currently old. Do you seriously think that the first recipients got back the money they had paid in? Not a chance. They had hardly had the chance to pay in anything before they promptly retired and received a wonderful return funded by the then current workers. This system works nicely if (i) the number of workers per retiree is stable and (ii) the payouts are enriched only if the payroll taxes are increased to pay for it. We have done the latter why the tax is so much higher today than it used to be when you first started paying in, but we have not accounted for the latter.
    And Joe, your charity toward the “bum” was no doubt well-intentioned, but it is pretty weak compared to what many other people who participate on this forum have done and do all the time — I would not brag about it if I were you. Folks who want government to take the lead in dealing with poverty almost always use that as a way to justify their intention that “other people” pay for it. Read “Who Really Cares” by Brooks. It will open your eyes.

  • Mike, I wasn’t holding myself as a model of charity. I was never any good at handling money as everyone else on this forum appears to be.

  • I think a lot of the issue with the “ponzi scheme” description has to do with how the Social Security program actually works versus how it was sold to the American People.

    The original sale was based on the idea that it was a forced savings/social insurance regimen in which people “payed in” and “got back” their benefits later. This is the way my grandmother (intensely loyal to the Democrats up through JFK and then to the Republicans starting with Nixon) always described the system, and no argument could shake her basic conviction that it was like a good, old fashioned savings account with the money safely in the government’s “lock box”.

    The problem is that the government “saves” the money by lending it to itself. It then goes off and spends the money in the happy assurance that it’s promise to pay itself back is “savings” sitting in the bank.

    The way people my age (30s) tend to look at social security is, to my mind, a lot more realistic. It’s a system whereby the government takes money from those who are working and pays it out to those who are retired. Given that most of us don’t want to live in a society in which many of the old are indigent, this seems like a relatively good idea. Though if one accepts the idea that it’s basically a welfare scheme it seems like one would heavily means test it. Why should Warren Buffett be drawing a Social Security check?

    The trick is, to those who think that Social Security works the way my grandmother did, it really is a Ponzi scheme. After all, the definition of a Ponzi scheme is pretty much that it pretends to be a savings/investment program while in fact it’s using the contributions of new “investors” to pay out distributions to earlier ones.

    If, on the other hand, one simply accepts it as a welfare program, it simply is what it is and a few tweeks would probably make it a lot more sustainable than it is — though the demographics of the country are going to make it more and more painful as the decades pass.

    After all, a Ponzi scheme wouldn’t be a fraud if people understood that their money was going to be used to pay off earlier members that that their future pay offs would rely on finding future investorys to “pay in”.

  • If you remove social security, you’ll simply have more people on welfare. Last year the average social security check nation wide was $1177 a month which is $14,124 a year….or the budget of an abstemious Carthusian monk who does not have cable or internet or property taxes or a car and it’s insurance.
    If you could find stable 5% bonds (and you cannot) a person would have to save $282,480 to earn that income in those bonds on their own if social security ended. There are numerous job holders who will never save that and don’t have pensions….unless society pays them more: diner waitresses, janitors, parish receptionists, small factory assembly workers, retail non owners (like people who work in bakeries, flower stores etc.), auto parts delivery men, small business truckers etc., dish washers in restaurants.
    The Amish take no social security because grandparents live with the younger generation who have many children who help with the farm….and they have no cable, internet or autos with insurance….nor do they have medical insurance but the community chips in for hospital stays.
    Heck….they’re like our Carthusians as to budget.

  • Good post, Darwin, but I’d clarify an important distinction between two phenomena. First, there never was a lock box system. People who retired right after SS was made effective received payments even if they had only paid into it for a single paycheck. The only way that can happen is for the current workers to pay for current retirees. The system was never designed to allow for workers to build up savings sufficient for defined benefit payouts. Accordingly, the system resulted, quite predictably, in huge current surpluses for many years simply because the number of workers was so much greater than the number of retirees who had paid in. The federal government, quite sensibly perhaps, invested that surplus in federal government bonds, which is the same thing as saying it loaned the surplus to the federal government (itself) to pay for operating expenses (i.e., the deficit). It is this latter practice that many folks (Joe presumably) consider “raiding” SS, but in truth no other investment would have been safer. The idea that the surplus would have been invested in the private sector was never seriously considered to my knowledge. SS currently holds huge IOUs from the US gov’t, which will almost certainly be paid one way or another, but it still won’t be enough simply because the money being paid in is not sufficient to cover current obligations, which means we are eating away at the surplus which eventually will disappear, at which point SS will not be able to pay its obligations unless it is restructured. In addition to Mrs. Zummo’s option (which is very sensible of course), other options include reducing benefits, means-testing benefits, and increasing taxes. All have political and economic risks. Delaying benefits would be politically palatable only if its effect is phased in well into the future, I think, unless the delay is just a year or so. Reducing benefits would present genuine hardships for many people who depend on SS for getting by, regardless of the fact that in many cases these persons have no one to blame but themselves for their situation. Means-testing would risk the viability of the system to the extent it becomes exposed as a welfare program rather than a forced savings program. It would also be somewhat counter-productive in that it would encourage workers to save less in order to make sure they qualify. Increasing taxes on current workers in order to pay for retirees who failed to save (because they were not good at handling money — gheesh) creates huge political and moral issues, especially since demographics will not allow current workers to participate in the system in a meaningful way when they retire. The system was terribly designed, and we should phase out of it over time the best we can.
    There are no easy answers. The system was poorly designed from the beginning.

  • Bill, you are right in that eliminating SS would mean more folks go on welfare, but make no mistake — that would be a much cheaper option. It just would not be especially fair for all the folks who have been paying in believing that they were earning a defined benefit and who also have been responsibly saving for retirement. Also, it should be remembered that flawed as it is and was, SS was never designed or even marketed as anything other than a *supplemental* retirement income program. The idea that it is supposed to be enough to live on is and always has been nonsense believed only the irresponsible who rationalize not saving. In addition, I take issue with your sense of who can save. Most households in the US are saving far less than they could or should. Their neighbors who are saving are choosing to delay gratification, and those who choose otherwise should not be expected to eat their cake and still have it.

  • Mike
    But in the occupations I named, those are people who live on the edge and probably are going bare on medical insurance which in NJ for example is about 7K for a single and 12K for a family.
    Once they are hit with an unusual bill, they finance that on their credit card and probably pay the minimum monthly for a decade. Let’s say a Bodega owner in Hoboken with a family of four has medical at 12k a year with a $2500 deductible and as a result nets 29k yearly after medical in an area with $1300 a month rents to live in danger crimewise.
    One robbery at his Bodega or on the street in which he gets shot but lives but then has engine trouble two months later….and he and his family are behind the 8 ball for years paying Chase
    over 20% on the credit card he used for the deductible and the engine job. Will he save $282K in his context? No. You are thinking of the baby boomers making 60K a year and buying wave runners and such and saving an average amount that is half of their yearly if we are to believe some figures. And we should be alarmed if those people have no pensions but if many of them have pensions, we should look at the savings equivalent of those pensions (which pensions I know are vanishing outside government for younger workers).
    Which would you rather have if your family has 90year old longevity in their genes….a pension of 30K a year or an IRA of 1 million dollars during a two percent stable principal time period? The 1 million IRA at 2% is $20,000 income per year and if you touch the principal, that
    declines. I’d take the IRA but you can see how incredibly good the old private pensions were and still are for a myriad of government workers. Teachers getting 60K a year pensions now is the equivalent of an IRA of three million dollars at 2% wherein the older person doesn’t touch the principal because now he fears nursing home costs taking what he wanted to leave to children and grandchildren.
    The Hoboken Bodega owner is just hoping to get through the day without three thugs with hoodies and glocks turning over his “We’re Closed” sign.

  • Bill,
    As you suggest few workers today have pensions outside the government. And government pensions are generally woefully underfunded due both to being too rich and to poor investment performance, just like everyone else this decade. The reason that corporations stopped giving pensions is simply that they could not accept the risk of underfunding. The only way to manage that risk was to overfund, but tax laws make that difficult for sound reasons, and over-funding makes US workers massively expensive. The more sensible option is for each family to accept its own financial responsiblity, but the reality is many don’t. For reasons beyond my understanding, many people are not as smart as squirrels, who notwithstanding their tiny squirrel brains manage to save nuts for each winter. There is some logic therefore in having a forced savings system, but such a social contract decision is best effectuated by government rather than private employers. Social Security could have been such a system, but it wasn’t because such a system would not have allowed for payouts to be made to workers who functionally never earned them. Your assumption that payouts for today’s retirees would have been better had employers retained our old defined benefit plan system (i.e., pensions) is false. Those payouts must be funded by the savings set aside by the companies, and such savings would be no more actuarily sound today than those set aside for state and local government workers, and for the same reasons. Like states and cities, companies would be stuck with massive underfunded liabilities and facing insolvency, except without the power to tax.
    It is true that some families do not make enough money to save for retirement, but studies confirm that the vast majority of families with inadequate savings are simply over-consuming. In most cases they will be fine in retirement (at least by sensible standards), though with a considerably reduced standard of living.
    And don’t get me started on our so-called underpaid teachers ….

  • Hmmm… in four middle aged men in the US right now are below the poverty level. I just think you might be overstating the size of the spendthrift wave runner crowd. We just had thousands of flooded homeowners from hurricane Irene incur large bills in NJ to repair homes they cannot sell because the hurricane showed their homes to be vulnerable beyond their expectations. It boggles my mind that government zoned these areas for residences….and then people like new Chinese friends of my daughter in law bought there/ repaired their house once already and now must do it again. And they are up the creek because they believed in the zoning wisdom of Caesar and they were new here from Taiwan. Now they have a permanent cross unless they take a Fed offer of buyout if their town is included. I agree with your values but we differ on the number of people who fall behind from prodigality. But stats cannot really answer the nuances. I hear stories of men who were divorced by their wives and fall very far down financially or women who were deserted with four children and receive no help thenceforth from the man. Stats may report them someday as insufficient savers without mentioning the descents they suffered. Near me by two miles on a subway station platform, a Merrill Lynch manager with a wife and three children at home waiting… stood waiting for a train and a schizophrenic ran up behind him and stabbed him multiple times with a kitchen meat cutting knife to death and poor people from that area chased the man down and held him for police. Think of the financial descent of the widow aside from the existential personal bereftment even if he had life insurance. She most probably had a large mortgage and large property taxes. Stats may one day report her as not having saved….without telling us she had three children to send to college alone.

  • We all have our stories and experiences, Bill, and while I have some responses to yours I have not the time. I’ve wasted too much today, which is why I’m still at work and will be for another couple hours. But I’m very skeptical of your one in four datum though. And by the way, I have a property in a hurricane zone and buy flood insurance (expensive!) since most hurricane damage is flood rather than wind. It would never occur to me to do otherwise.

  • Don

    Interesting facts about Social Security.

    The constitutionality of Title II of the Social Secury Act per se, the operating title, has never tried. Reportadly some one challenged it seriously enough that the government offered settlement so large the judge required them to accept it.


    The Social security commission that is in charge of the Social Security System consists of the Secrataries of Treasurey and Health and Human Services and the Commissioner who is also the executive head of the agency. All serve at the pleasure the President.

    There are multiple conflicts of interest in that arrangement. It is hjard to see how directors of a private fund with similar arrangements would not be continually fighing off civil suits and possible fraud and failure of duty criminal charges.


    SS was sold as a social Insurnce plan like a life insurance policy or non government retirement benefits.

    However it was set up form the beginning with no legal connection between the FICA tax and SS benefits. Paying FICA taxes does not give a property right to benefits. Legally benefits are an entitlement like welfare.


    When it was set up the interst rate paid to the SS trust fund was 0. In the fifties the Republicans forced and amendment to pay interest. But the interest rate is always below the average rate the government pays on it’s debt.

    One of the reasons I started blogging was to improve my writing. If you promise not to laugh to hard one of my first effors was on
    Saving Social Security.

    Hank’s Eclectic Meanderings

  • The closer you look at Social Security Hank, the worse it gets.

  • You like SS. You’re gonna love Obamacare.

  • SS is a Ponzi scheme in the same way that taxation is theft. If it were done by a private citizen, it would be illegal but it’s a legitimate government function. The “Ponzi scheme” designation does help to highlight the system’s poor design though.

    Talk of whether it’s technically “broke” isn’t very helpful. It’s unsustainable without reform. There are no easy solutions. Raise the retirement age? You want 69-year olds to find jobs? Their old job let them go at 65 because they’re hurting productivity. That life expectancy has increased doesn’t mean people can work that much longer. Never mind the fact that increasing the retirement age hurts the young as they’re crowded out of a job thanks to seniors working longer.

    I would roll all welfare programs including SS into a single means-tested tax credit. Reforming SS shouldn’t plunge anyone into poverty.

  • After reading these posts, I better start shopping for a good brand of dog food. Let’s use that SS money for a few more star war weapons. That will make the ultra-conservatives happy.

  • Classic Joe. You are going to be eating dog food because people realize social security is a scam. No Joe, you will get your welfare checks from the Government until you die, and it will be left for future generations to clean up the mess. You didn’t set the policy, you had no choice but to pay in, and you would be a fool not to take the money, but please do not deny the problem simply because you have the long end of the stick.

  • Pingback: The Libertarian: Social Security - a Ponzi Scheme ?

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The Sebelius regulations: Is it time for the USCCB to stop negotiating in private and to catechize in public?

Wednesday, September 28, AD 2011

As others have noted, the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops has now weighed in.

In an “urgent” call to action bulletin insert, the USCCB called the new federal regulations proposed by Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, a potential “unprecedented threat to individual and institutional religious freedom.”  The bulletin insert also included the URL of a page on the USCCB website that allows an individual to send an email message to Ms. Sebelius protesting her proposed regulations as well as a page containing the comments the USCCB has submitted to HHS.  Under the proposed regulations, the USCCB claims that Jesus would not qualify for a religious exemption.

In this digital age, perhaps this is how the nation’s Catholic bishops can best motivate their flock to act, as President Obama would say, by “taking off the bedroom slippers and putting on the marching boots” to join in fighting this potential unprecedented threat.

But, should Catholics be optimistic?

After all, for all of the USCCB’s “dancing with wolves,” what has its approach achieved with the Obama administration?

Some facts:

  • The White  House has moved away from upholding the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage at the  Federal level as the union of a man and a woman, and bolstering the rights of  states not to recognize same-sex unions performed elsewhere.
  • The end of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
  • And, now, the Sebelius’ regulations that include contraceptives and abortofacients.

Perhaps this “behind-the-scenes, make nice” approach to negotiating with the Obama administration is wrongheaded.

Why doesn’t the USCCB come forward into the public arena—using cable television and talk radio venues—and challenge those, like Ms. Sebelius and those who hold her definition of “Catholic,” to defend how it is possible as Catholics to propose federal regulations that are antithetical to Church teaching?  Should catechizing the nation not be the USCCB’s first priority?

“Taking the case to the public” undoubtedly would allow the USCCB to educate the public.  At the same time, it might also generate greater attention and respect for Church teaching as well as put more boots on the ground.


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22 Responses to The Sebelius regulations: Is it time for the USCCB to stop negotiating in private and to catechize in public?

  • You really don’t know what you are writing about.

    First, you start with the false presumption that USCCB has been “making nice” with the Obama administration, as if it was secretly pro-Obama. The evidence, however, is to the contrary. The USCCB has consistently opposed the administration’s proposals whenever they conflict with Catholic teaching, including all the issues you mention.

    Second, you assume that USCCB’s policy work directly with the administration and Congress is all that is being done by the Church on the issues. Church interaction with Congress and the administration is primarily USCCB’s responsibility. Implementing education, catechesis, and action at the diocesan and parish level is an individual bishop’s responsibility. If you think more is being done at the lobbying end rather than the catechesis end, blame your bishop and priest, not USCCB.

    Third, you write as though the nationwide bulletin insert reflects the sole action of USCCB and the bishops with regards to the HHS rules. That is not true. The suggestion that USCCB has just “weighed in” is so far off the mark as to be offensive. USCCB and other Catholic entities have been fighting these proposed rules at every step in the process – even before the final rules were announced – including providing suggestions for how to get parishioners involved. It was USCCB staff that first sounded the alarm about the possibility that HHS might develop these rules. Very likely you would have not heard about the proposed rules but for USCCB.

    Some of the same “taking to the public” measures you suggest were taken. Again, if parishioners were not aware of the situation months ago, blame the bishops and priests – mostly priests – not USCCB.

  • How does the 501(c)(3) status play into this question?

    I’m a bit hesitant to critique charitable organizations for their response to political questions. There is a deftness, a deliberate and careful approach that need be applied lest an organization find itself on the losing end of tax laws.

    I don’t’ pretend to have any expertise in this area and I am hopeful that someone can address the subject more knowledgably.

  • The 501(c)(3) restrictions do not apply unless the “lobbying” is a “substantial” amount of the organizations activities.

  • Until the Bishops in the USCCB emulate the precedence given in Sacred Scripture, all their protestations to the contrary are without teeth.

    Acts 5:1-11 – Ananias and Sapphira
    1st Corinthians 5 – the man who slept with his father’s wife
    1st Timothy 1:19-20 – Hymenaeus and Alexander
    Revelation 2:20-23 – Jezebel

    Kathleen Sebelius carries the description “Catholic,” yet her actions are anything but Catholic. What was done to her spiritual predecessors in Scripture must be done to her – publicly – since what she is doing is public. In fact, this has to be done to every pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, pro-contraception so-called “Catholic” politician regardless of political party. If doing this means loss of tax exempt status, then so be it. But until this is done, the USCCB’s protestations are without effect and force.

    We aren’t here talking about a woman who made a mistake in the past, having had an abortion, but she seeks forgiveness and is trying to get her life straightened out. Nor are we talking about a man and his girlfriend who succumb to temptation, but realize their error and seek forgiveness. Nor are we talking about a celibate gay person who has a slip but repents. None of us are without sin. We all screw up.

    Rather, we are talking about politicians who consistently and insistently support in the public forum abortion, gay marriage, contraception and all manner of wickedness, and then still call themselves Catholic. That the Bishops permit this is a scandal on the Body of Christ. This is what St. Paul said to do about such people in verses 4 through 8 in 1st Corinthians 5:

    “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

  • I think that preaching faith and morals teachings of the Roman Catholic Church is not lobbying. Certain of those teaching may have been was deemed irrelevant in 2008.

    I don’t know. In 2008, where were faith and morals on the USCCB priority list?

    All of this was predictable from reading Obama’s and his far left associates’ backgrounds. So, I am not surprised by any of the immoral (abortion, gay privileges, class hatred, etc.) acts of this regime.

    The USCCB apparently now is shocked . . .shocked.

    Elections have meanings.

    Catholic Obama voters: In November 2008, you proved you aren’t racists and you care about the “downtrodden.” In November 2012, you can prove you aren’t evil and you care about the unborn and you don’t hate millionaires (btw: there just aren’t enough of them).

  • To ctd: The USCCB is run by Democrats and Democrat surrogates like John Carr and Ralph McCloud. Follow the money. CCHD continues to give millions of dollars yearly to leftist groups which directly or indirectly oppose church teaching.

    The worst part is that it is knowingly and arrogantly deceitful in the process. Please refute the last part of the above-cited document, which demonstrates the extent of the deceit and misuse of funds.

  • It is NOT time for USCCB to stop negotiating in private, because as long as they do so, they might just succeed negotiating homosexual activity into no longer being mortal sin. Perhaps another Democrat victory?

  • David wrote: “They (the USCCB) might just succeed negotiating homosexual activity into no longer being a mortal sin.”

    The Universal Church, of which the USCCB is purportedly a part, has for the last four thousand years, upheld and maintained the law of God which has come down to us, that sexual expression is reserved to husband and wife – one man and one woman – married to one another in fidelity, and always open to the transmission of new life.

    Even if the USCCB – hypothetically – wished to modify this or any direct command from God and attempted actually to do so, the rest of the Church would not correspond to their action.

  • You don’t bite the hand of who your in bed with.

  • More energy in the bishops would help a lot. The root-cause drawback of the USCCB is that it’s a committee, a huge committee, and thus its statements are watered down. It has effectively become the US Conference of Lowest Common Denominator Bishops. It sounds an uncertain trumpet.

  • If a two year old wanders into traffic, and the responsible adult stands on the the side of the road and beckons, “Come on honey, come on back to safety” but the adult does nothing by action to yank the child back to safety, than the adult is responsible for the harm done to the child.

    Bishops are our shepherds, sometimes when we wander far from the fold, and do it often, to the point of risking the damnation of our souls through mortal sin; we need to have our legs broken so that we will stay in the safety of the shepherd’s gaze.

    Bishop, please give us the guidance we need to be able to partake of Heaven. Lead us not down the road of perdition. Every soul is your responsibility. Your very eternal life Bishop, rests on how you teach and guide those the Church has given to you.

  • “More energy in the bishops would help a lot. The root-cause drawback of the USCCB is that it’s a committee, a huge committee, and thus its statements are watered down. It has effectively become the US Conference of Lowest Common Denominator Bishops. It sounds an uncertain trumpet.”

    This is an interesting view. I hadn’t thought of it before. How many bishops are there in the USCCB and how would you reform it?

  • I’m very surprised that this article didn’t include a link to the *public* letter about marriage from Archbishop Dolan (President of the USCCB) to President Obama, released Sept. 20, 2011: In the letter, the Archbishop mentions that both he and his predecessor, Cardinal George, sent private letters to President Obama re: their concerns about the federal administration’s erosion of marriage. As these letters received no response (and seemingly no change in direction), Archbishop Dolan decided to make the bishops’ concerns public. I’m very hard pressed to see how this letter isn’t an example of “catechizing in public”…it was addressed to the President of the U.S. – how much more public and nationwide can yout get?

    The author points to specific *means* of public catechesis (radio and TV) but seems to overlook the very public work being done by the bishops in regards to marriage and pro-life issues. Nationwide bulletin inserts are not “behind-the-scenes” negotiations.

    Finally, I think it’s important to remember that the public sphere is the proper place of activity for the laity. Of course witness from the bishops is crucial, but let’s not pass the baton too quickly – before we point a finger at the bishops (Why aren’t they doing more?) perhaps it would be good to reflect on how each of us (especially the lay) are promoting and publicizing the Church’s teaching on love, life, and marriage.

  • “The author points to specific *means* of public catechesis (radio and TV) but seems to overlook the very public work being done by the bishops in regards to marriage and pro-life issues. ”

    The Bishops must emulate the example of 1st Corinthians chapter 5. Sending letters to Obama will never work. In the words of St. Paul, this is what must be done to Andy Cuomo, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and every other pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage politician: “…deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”

    Or how about this in 1 Timothy 1:19-20: “…having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”

  • Paul, I have to confess that I don’t know what St. Paul means by “deliever such a one to Satan.” What does this mean and what does it have to do with the bishops’ work of evangelization and catechesis?

  • I think St. Paul means public ex communication. This is what was done to the man living with his father’s mother in 1st Corinthians 5. because of that, the man repent of his sexual immorality and on that basis St. Paul told the Church of Corinth to welcome him back as recorded in 2nd Corinthians 2:5-11.

    As I stated in a comment above, we aren’t talking about a man and his girlfriend who succumb to temptation, but realize their mistake and repent. We aren’t talking about a celibate gay who has a slip, but realizes his mistake and repents. We aren’t talking about someone struggling with addiction to internet pornography, and is trying to straighten out his life through confession and penance. We aren’t talking about the alcoholic in recovery who is having a hard time staying sober, but he nevertheless picks himself up and gets another white chip at a 12 step meeting. We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. Rather, we are talking about the kind of people that St. Paul identified in Romans 1:32:

    “[These people], knowing the righteous judgment of God (that those who practice such things are deserving of death), not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”

    That in a nutshell describes Andy Cuomo, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and all the rest. They were brought up and catechized as Catholic. They know better. But they insist on the perversion of gay marriage and abortion on demand, publicly thumbing their noses at Archbishop Dolan’s pleas. St. Paul in essence is saying, “Throw them out till they repent.”

    Now this sort of thing (politicians who support abortion and gay marriage) is entirely different than politicians who support capital punishment or who have different views about just war or who believe that wealth redistribution isn’t a Federal Government responsibility, and so on. People in good will can differ on those kinds of things. In fact, the examples given in Sacred Scripture of ex communications and punishment (Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11, the man living with his father’s wife in 1 Corinthians 5, Hymenaeus and Alexander in 1 Timothy 1:19-20, Jezebel in Revelation 2:20-23) were morality examples: lying to the Holy Spirit in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, sexual perversion in the case of the man at Corinth, blasphemy in the case of Hymenaeus and Alexander, more sexual perversion in the case of Jezebel.

    The Bishops are afraid to emulate the precedence of Sacred Scripture because to do so would single out public examples of apostasy and rebellion in political office and the persons so affected would act to remove the Church’s tax exempt status. However, Sirach 10:1-5 and Ezekiel 34:1-10 hold the politician and the cleric MORE responsible than anyone else for executing righteous action.

    Too often we obfuscate the clarity of Sacred Scripture with human rationalization and re-interpretations of this Vatican document or that Vatican document to suit some sort of preconceived notion. St. Paul would be appalled that Andy Cuomo and Nancy Pelosi are allowed to publicly parade themselves up for Holy Communion after their public declarations in behalf of the perversion of homosexual sodomy and the murder of the unborn. And he wouldn’t give one iota what Caesar would do to the Church’s tax exempt status as a result of publicly punishing these apostates.

  • I failed to answer the question, “…what does it have to do with the bishops’ work of evangelization and catechesis?”

    Public example – which is exactly what St. Paul did to the pervert in 1st Corinthian chapter 5. None of the letters or bulletin inserts or whatever that the Bishops print mean anything till they back it up with example. To paraphrase Romans 1:32:

    “[Politicians], knowing the righteous judgment of God (that those who practice such things [as homosexuality, abortion, etc.] are deserving of death), not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”

    Again, St. Paul is NOT talking about the celibate gay who has a slip or the boyfriend and girlfriend who give in to temptation. He’s talking about people like Andy Cuomo.

    If the Bishops really want to instruct the Faithful, then they’ll publicly throw Cuomo out till he repents in the same way as St. Paul told the Church at Corinth to throw their pervert out.

  • Is it time for the USCCB to stop negotiating in private and to catechize in public?

    Actually, if you are one of those who don’t have a reflexive hatred and distrust of our bishops, you’ve probably noticed that the USCCB has been doing both of things things simultaneously for the past several years, and has been becoming a stronger and stronger presence as a result.

  • “Actually, if you are one of those who don’t have a reflexive hatred and distrust of our bishops, you’ve probably noticed that the USCCB has been doing both of things things simultaneously for the past several years, and has been becoming a stronger and stronger presence as a result.”
    Hatred is a strong word. Distrust of the USCCB…you betcha!!!! Remember folks…the Episcopal Conferences (such as the USCCB) have NO TEACHING AUTHORITY within the Church!!!!! That is reserved to the individual bishops in their diocese. The USCCB IS NOT A PARALLEL MAGISTERIUM! The USCCB is an administrative/ bureaucratic organization for the churches in the U.S. The USCCB cannot excommunicate anyone. That must be done/ started by the individual bishop. So what we have is an administrative organization in Washington D.C. that tends to oversteps its bounds of authority and is run by clergy and laypersons often who have other than church interests in mind when making decisions. Since the media (and many Catholics) falsely treat the Episcopal Conferences like a magesterium we end up with the misleading and embarrassing policies of this group.

  • Archbishop Dolan of New York, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has written a second letter to President Barack Obama. This letter warns the President that his administration will “precipitate a national conflict between church and state of enormous proportions” if it does not “end its campaign against DOMA, the institution of marriage it protects, and religious freedom.”

    Why the second letter?

    Archbishop Dolan indicated that the only “response” he and Cardinal George had received from their previous communications was a stepped up attack on marriage by the administration.

    This is good! Archbishop Dolan is outing the President.

    But, once again, private letters aren’t the same as public outrage and catechesis. One can only imagine what Cardinal Francis Spellman would have done!

    For those commentators to my post who believe the USCCB has been very “public” about these matters by issuing all sorts of documents (that the people in the pews know very little if nothing about), reconsider the fact that Archbishop Dolan’s letter follows two previous letters. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, the former USCCB President, sent the first letter privately in 2010. Archbishop Dolan sent the second letter to Obama privately earlier this year.

    At least this latest letter has been made public–dated September 20, publicly posted on the USCCB website September 22, and linked to Archbishop Dolan’s personal blog on September 23. That gets some coverage.

    More importantly, however, Archbishop Dolan’s letter only hints at the Sebelius regulations proposed on August 1st. Why the hints, especially when the issue concerns compelling all private health plans in the United States to cover sterilizations and all-FDA approved contraceptives including abortofacients?

    Why be so direct now about DOMA and not about the Sebelius regulations?

    There is one answer: The regulations have not yet been officially promulgated.

  • Sebelius’ regulation needs to be publicly and openly disobeyed by any and all Catholic organizations. Let the government try to enforce it.

    Sebelius – and all “Catholic” politicans who support homosexual marriage and abortion – should be excommunicated, but the bishops in the USA do not have the backbone to do it.

Scalia on Natural Law

Wednesday, September 28, AD 2011

I think Justice Scalia is right on target regarding his comments on the difficulty inherent in judges attempting to apply natural law in this country.  Natural law, as a legal concept to be used day to day by judges in the cases before them, only works if people are in agreement on basic morality.  Then a law writ by God on the hearts and minds of men and true for all times and true for all places is possible of discernment in application to particular cases.  Such a civilization Western Europe enjoyed from around 1000 AD to the time of the Reformation.  Our time bears little relationship to that period in history.  Now we live in a time of moral chaos, where even the right to life of an unborn child is denied by law.  In such a time of moral collapse, giving to judges the power to make determinations based on natural law is simply giving them the power to make it up as they go along, even more than they not infrequently do currently.  Bad enough results obtain when judges are supposedly bound by the text of written constitutions.  Give them a warrant to use something as vague and amorphous as natural law, and the results are completely predictable.

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15 Responses to Scalia on Natural Law

Pro Market vs Pro Business

Tuesday, September 27, AD 2011

This video has been making the rounds, and I’ve got to say the trader being interviewed does seem to be trying hard for a “first against the wall when the revolution comes” award.

I think one of the natural reactions many people have when seeing something like this is: How can you be pro-market when you see this is what markets are all about? This guy is gleeful at the idea of making money off a market crash that wipes out millions of people’s retirement savings!

The answer, I think, is in keeping in mind the difference between being pro-business and pro-market. Businesses are not necessarily pro-market, since markets only reward businesses so long as they are doing a better job at meeting customers’ needs than other businesses. Markets can, thus, both reward businesses and also chew them up and spit them out.

Watching some cocky trader bragging about how he’ll make money while everyone else is going broke tends to make people feel like what they need is a champion sitting behind a regulatory agency desk to rein his excesses. The problem is that we don’t really have any guarantee that the people in our legislative and regulatory bodies will be any nicer than this guy, or any less prone to think that they know more than they really do.

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25 Responses to Pro Market vs Pro Business

  • Yeah, I don’t know that I’m necessarily “pro-market” as much as I am “anti-big-governement-know-it-all-trying-to-pick-winners-and-losers”.

  • Good distinction. In this time of bailouts, the very concept of capitalism, it seems, is being rewritten by Obama and his cohorts.

  • Are these twin evils really our only options?

    Must we put up with one to spite the other?

    Are we not letting those who tell us that one is necessary to avoid the other shape the narrative a bit too much?

  • “We don’t really have any guarantee that the people in our legislative and regulatory bodies will be any nicer than this guy, or any less prone to think that they know more than they really do. ”

    Well, I guess that’s what checks and balances and the three branches of government are for, why due process is such an important concept, and why democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.

  • “We don’t really have any guarantee that the people in our legislative and regulatory bodies will be any nicer than this guy, or any less prone to think that they know more than they really do. ”

    Actually I think we have plenty of evidence that they would be worse, as the present administration has done its best to establish beyond question. I agree with Reagan that one of the most terrifying phrases in the English language is, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help!”

  • Brett,

    Sorry, I’m a little confused. Which twin evils? Which narrative?

  • Elaine,

    Agreed, to an extent. I think the difficulty is that the more detailed the way in which our governmental agencies get in the way they try to guide or fine tune a particular industry, the harder it gets for checks and balances or due process to work in a transparent fashion, simply because it gets very hard for the rest of us to have any clear idea whether they’re doing a good job or not. All the parties able to tell us are involved and interested.

    I think this is why it’s so important (and so hard) to have have set up a simple and strong legal and cultural framework that allows “truck barter and exchange”. It’s something we’ve been the lucky inheritors of in the much of the West, and which has been surprisingly hard to build quickly and from scratch in the former Eastern Bloc, though obviously we’re making progress on that (it’s better than it was.)

  • “The governments don’t rule the world, Goldman Sachs rules the world.”

    I am only shocked about how out in the open he is. He is only telling the truth about his profession.

    My savings are going into a rototiller and canned food. This is only going to get worse for the non Goldman Sachs of the world

  • I am only shocked about how out in the open he is.

    He is not being open, he is being flippant. You will recall that just three years ago Goldman, Sachs was in need of a bridge loan to keep from sliding into bankruptcy. They have a book value of (IIRC) around $85 bn in an economy where publicly traded corporations have a market capitalization of $12,000 bn.

    Actually I think we have plenty of evidence that they would be worse,

    Politicians do not talk like this fellow, because they have to stand for election and they would be in more danger than they would care to be from newspapers and thus a section of the voting public. All of which is to say that the matrix in which politicians work has some antibodies to protect the whole against flagrantly predatory behavior. Rahm Emmanuel talks like this, but he is quite unusual. As for the civil service, which of the regulatory agencies, however officious, profits from the destruction of your retirement savings?

  • In my profession Art, I am quite familiar with empty bombastic talk, and I tend to be focused more in regard to actions. Current actions of the government in the retirement arena include saddling the nation with huge public employee pensions which simply cannot be paid. As for the ponzi scheme, as it is aptly termed by Governor Perry and a myriad of others, called social security, I no doubt will obtain some benefit from it due to my age, but for our readers 35 and under, that particular trust-me-I’m-from-the-government con will be as one with Nineveh, Tyre and Unicorns.

  • The twin evils you present: the wicked trader and the corrupt (and/or inept) regulator.

    The narrative being either that we must put up with the trader because the regulator is worse or, alternately, we need the regulator because of how wicked the trader is.

  • Your view of the pension situation is colored by your residence. Illinois is as bad as it gets.

    I agree that public employee compensation is a scandal, but there is an implementable repair: convert their retirement pensions into defined-contribution plans financed strictly by deductions from their stated wage and salary.

    The experience of the last two years strongly suggests that the public-employee unions are not impregnable as an interest group.

    With regard to Social Security, it is an income transfer program readily sustainable with some modest adjustments. It is not a Ponzi scheme and Republican politicians need to stop (right now) confusing matters by using misleading appellations.

  • I guess I’m not clear on what regulation would solve here. I suppose we could ban short-selling. That would be quite a paradigm shift, but even then, smart investors would find proxy investments (or even U.S. treasuries) that will enable them to bet against the financial solvency of the euro (which appears to be doomed in any case).

    There’s something sociopathic about rooting for Rome to burn because of the great investment opportunities it will lead to, no doubt, but I am not sure what regulation would solve here. Unless we plan to abandon allowing investing altogether we won’t be able to prevent jerks like this guy from hoping that his particular bets pay off. To me, the basic public policy lesson to be drawn from the video is that this guy is a tool. What am I missing?

  • With regard to Social Security, it is an income transfer program readily sustainable with some modest adjustments. It is not a Ponzi scheme and Republican politicians need to stop (right now) confusing matters by using misleading appellations.

    Completely agree. This is a straight income transfer of money between the working population and retirees of a certain age. The demographics are shifting and so we need to make adjustments to the transfer mechanism. Not to be pedantic, but here’s a definition of a Ponzi scheme:

    “a fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to its investors from their own money or the money paid by subsequent investors, rather than from any actual profit earned by the individual or organization running the operation.”

    To me it’s clear that 1. Social security is a tax, not an investment; 2. it is not fraudulent; anyone with access to the intertubes can quickly understand how the transfer works; 3. No profit is supposed to be generated by the social security program.

  • Those with 401’s that do not permit shorting I would urge to start a Roth IRA and run it parallel to your 401 ( switch yearly to it after company matching reaches it’s yearly max.) In a Roth, you can short the entire market with one etf …SDS…which two times shorts the S&P). In the recent market downturn, I stayed floating above the mess and stayed even on my principal by buying SDS just as you would a stock and selling many stocks til I was twice the stock amount that I had in SDS. I floated at even for weeks. Avoid triple shorts unless you’re aware of their illiquidity.
    Susy Orman recommends the parallel Roth even without the shorting advantage.
    You cannot short stocks in an IRA but you can buy inverse etf’s which short the market or a sector for you automatically and are not nearly as risky as shorting a stock. Should the market suddenly turn prosperous, you can have all shares of the inverse etf sold by your computer when you’re not paying attention by issuing a trailing stop loss sell order at say 2% right after you buy it.
    What this system does is protect your pension by floating above the trouble during down
    turns. Traders on the other hand may be in inverse etf’s for days in a bad period to actually make profit as the market sinks. But you can use the same inverse etf’s just to prevent loss during bad weeks to your pension total or at least greatly reduce the loss depending on the proportion between your 401 and your Roth Ira totals

  • For those wondering about the essence of shorting so that they can parse it’s morality…here it is briefly:

    1. A man works in a mall and he notices that fewer and fewer people are going into Macy’s each day. He has a non ira account with a broker and he decides that Macy’s seems to be going downhill.
    2. He calls his broker and says he wants to borrow $10,000 worth of Macy’s stock (370 shares) and sell it immediately. NOTE….he has not spent any money yet but he has received $10,000 for selling the 370 shares right away.

    3. But now he owes to the broker 370 shares of Macy’s stock and the broker gives him two months to pay back the shares. Slowly the price of Macy’s stock goes down week after week because the whole economy and market is going down and now the mall worker buys 370 shares of Macy’s for $7000 because it’s price has fallen 30%. He then gives the broker the 370 shares.

    4. He….the mall worker….received 10k at the start but had to repay the shares and because Macy’s went down, he only had to return 7K’s worth of sharex because he is paying back share number not money. He made 3k by predicting Macy’s would go lower.
    5. Could he have lost? Yes…big time if suddenly world problems were solved suddenly and Macy’s went up 30% with everything else. Then he received 10k at the start but had to pay 13k to buy back the 370 shares and he would have lost 3k instead of making 3k.

  • Brett,

    I guess my narrative is a little different. I’m saying that because one is pro-market (an appellation I would accept) does not necessarily mean that one approves of this kind of conduct or that one is “pro-business” in the sense of thinking that we should applaud what businesses, businessmen or business interests do or want. To be pro-market is perhaps in part to recognize that characters like this are inevitable, but rather than saying “greed is good!” or some such nonesense my response would simply be that markets are (given the ordering elements of law and culture needed for a market to even function) generally a mechanism for channelling such mischievious instincts to the common good.

    Or as Smith put it: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

    By comparison, I think that command structures often rely too heavily on the presumption that the person exercising command will be both knowledgable and well meaning.

  • John Henry,

    I guess I’m not clear on what regulation would solve here. I suppose we could ban short-selling. That would be quite a paradigm shift, but even then, smart investors would find proxy investments (or even U.S. treasuries) that will enable them to bet against the financial solvency of the euro (which appears to be doomed in any case).

    Well, the facebook friend I originally got the YouTube clip from seemed to think that things such as abolishing corporate personhood, taxing the rich and having the government take over banks would “solve” this kind of problem — but I think that was mostly through a vague association of the clip with feelings of “business is BAD”.

    I’m with you: The main lesson to be learned from this is that the guy being interviewed is a tool.

  • From the annual report of the Social Security Board of Trustees for 2011:

    “Social Security

    Social Security expenditures exceeded the program’s non-interest income in 2010 for the first time since 1983. The $49 billion deficit last year (excluding interest income) and $46 billion projected deficit in 2011 are in large part due to the weakened economy and to downward income adjustments that correct for excess payroll tax revenue credited to the trust funds in earlier years. This deficit is expected to shrink to about $20 billion for years 2012-2014 as the economy strengthens. After 2014, cash deficits are expected to grow rapidly as the number of beneficiaries continues to grow at a substantially faster rate than the number of covered workers. Through 2022, the annual cash deficits will be made up by redeeming trust fund assets from the General Fund of the Treasury. Because these redemptions will be less than interest earnings, trust fund balances will continue to grow. After 2022, trust fund assets will be redeemed in amounts that exceed interest earnings until trust fund reserves are exhausted in 2036, one year earlier than was projected last year. Thereafter, tax income would be sufficient to pay only about three-quarters of scheduled benefits through 2085.

    Under current projections, the annual cost of Social Security benefits expressed as a share of workers’ taxable wages will grow rapidly from 11-1/2 percent in 2007, the last pre-recession year, to roughly 17 percent in 2035, and will then dip slightly before commencing a slow upward march after 2050. Costs display a slightly different pattern when expressed as a share of GDP. Program costs equaled roughly 4.2 percent of GDP in 2007, and are projected to increase gradually to 6.2 percent of GDP in 2035 and then decline to about 6.0 percent of GDP by 2050 and remain at about that level.”

    Translation: you will pay a lot more for social security and get a lot less in benefits. Of course this is only true if the rosy economic projections on which this is based come to pass, and also assuming that young workers are content to have almost one in five of their dollars confiscated to pay for something they wisely assume they will probably not get. The ending of a Ponzi scheme is always an ugly sight to behold.

  • Rick Perry and I have a lot of company in viewing social security as a Ponzi scheme. A pity that unlike Ponzi schemes where people go to jail, participation was not on a voluntary basis.

  • Bill,

    That’s one of the clearest explanations of shorting that I’ve ever seen — and I think does a good job of explaining why one can’t really stop people from “betting against the market”. Thanks.

  • Let’s not get off into arguing the merits of the “social security = ponzi scheme” thing right here. I’ll happily provide a post for that discussion if needed, as it strikes me that in this case both sides are right, though in different senses.

  • Darwin Catholic
    Your welcome. Ordinary pensioners though are going to have to learn to buy inverse etf’s in a Roth IRA….just to prevent their family’s losing principal in their 401’s where they can’t buy inverses. In a downturn, people get fooled into staying in the market because of the ensuing up days but they are not keeping track of the percents on the up days versus the percents on the down days. That’s why 2008-9 was disastrous for 401’s. People saw the ensuing up days but didn’t notice the next two down days bringing them further down than the up day did.
    Jim Cramer on TV never mentions the inverses for protection of your pension because his job depends on people being interested in stocks…not etf’s.

  • I will be posting on the subject tomorrow Darwin. My interest has been aroused!

Favorite Star Trek Episode: Balance of Terror

Tuesday, September 27, AD 2011

Time to refresh my credentials as Chief Geek of TAC!

A condensed version of my favorite Star Trek episode Balance of Terror.  Originally broadcast on December 13, 1966, I have always found it riveting.  It introduced us to the Romulan Star Empire, an offshoot of the Vulcans.  Mark Lenard, one of the most underestimated actors of his generation, gives one of the best performances of the Star Trek franchise as the commander of a Romulan Bird of Prey vessel, equipped with a new cloaking device, making a foray into Federation territory.  Destroying Federation outposts along the Neutral Zone, his mission is to test Federation defenses.  If his mission is successful it will be the signal for an all-out Romulan invasion of the Federation.  Lenard portrays the commander as world-weary and tired.  An extremely able commander, he has seen too much of war, and dreads the massive interstellar conflict his political masters will unleash after he successfully completes his mission.  A Romulan of honor, he will do his duty even though he hates it.

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8 Responses to Favorite Star Trek Episode: Balance of Terror

Jesus vs. the Department for Health and Human Services

Monday, September 26, AD 2011

Proposed HHS regulations for “Required Health Plan Coverage” to be implemented next year will compel every employer to provide insurance coverage for sterilization and abortifacients, which Catholics (and perhaps other religious organizations) will judge as morally-reprehensible.

The Obama administration in their graciousness has provided some form of “conscience-exemption”:

Group health plans sponsored by certain religious employers, and group health insurance coverage in connection with such plans, are exempt from the requirement to cover contraceptive services. A religious employer is one that: (1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a non-profit organization under Internal Revenue Code section 6033(a)(1) and section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii). 45 C.F.R. §147.130(a)(1)(iv)(B).

but the guidelines here are drawn so narrowly that few, if any, religious organizations will actually qualify for exemption.

As Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the USCCB notes, in framing the definition of “religious employer” thus “the HHS has plunked itself right in the middle of the sanctuary. It is trying to define what a religion does and does not do.”:

Catholic hospitals, charities and educational institutions provide about $30 billion worth of service annually in this country. No one presents a baptismal certificate at the emergency room. The hungry do not recite the Creed to get groceries at the food pantry. Students can pursue learning at The Catholic University of America, Villanova or any other Catholic college without passing a catechism admissions test. The commitment to serve those in need, the sick, the hungry, the uneducated, is intrinsic to Catholicism. No federal rule (except now HHS’s) says the church must limit its service to Catholics if it is to be true to its teaching. HHS doesn’t get the parable of the Good Samaritan, who helped the stranger simply because he was in need.

Look at the numbers. Catholic hospitals admit about 5.6 million people annually. That’s one out of every six persons seeking hospital care in the United States. Catholic Charities serves more than 9 million people annually. Catholic colleges and universities teach 850,000 students annually. Among those served are Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, atheists, agnostics and members of any other religious or irreligious group you can name.

Indeed, it seems as though Jesus himself wouldn’t pass muster at the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services.

(HT: Wheat & Weeds).

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15 Responses to Jesus vs. the Department for Health and Human Services

  • And not just those employed by the Catholic Church or Catholic Charitable organizations, but those faithful Catholic businessmen and women who now face the choice of going against their faith of closing their business because they refuse to go along with Obamacare.

  • A number of organizations, ostensibly speaking on behalf of American Catholics, asserting that voting for candidate Obama was not a vote for abortion. We were told again and again that our concerns about electing an abortion advocate were silly and unreasoned because 1) the “real” fight over abortion was in the courts and state houses and 2) because candidate Obama could do no more than maintain the Clinton-era status quo. Yet, here we are in the opening salvos of the 2012 General Election season with this pandering move to shore up pro-choice support.

    The question is, how can our fellow Catholics reason their way to voting for President Obama in 2012 now that he has betrayed his hand on abortion?

  • Obama is the MOST pro death candidate we have had EVER! He was a cheerleader for partial birth abortion. To all Catholics who voted for this man, great job! What is next, the reincarnation of Stalin for health and wellness tzar.

  • In 2008, it was licit for Caholics to vote Obama because . . .

    And, in 2012 . . .

    In 2008, I knew Obama was the most rabid pro-abortion candidate in US history.

  • Beyond a doubt the most anti-Catholic administration in our nation’s history, and placed into power with the help of a lot of Catholic votes. Of course with a “Catholic” pro-abort like Sebelius at the head of HHS, the discerning among us knew what to expect from the beginning of this administration.

  • The persecution is coming – and the Obamaniac is leading the charge. The Irish are following suit.

  • This proposed reg. tells me that this administration is intent on making the
    Church either become the willing tool of the federal bureaucracy or retreat to
    a ghetto. My impression is that our betters in DC would prefer not to have
    the ever-expanding number of citizens receiving aid/charity/welfare/services
    to be receiving from any hands but theirs.

    I read recently that the president’s proposed jobs bill contains a section that
    would reduce the amount of deductions one could claim for charitable con-
    tributions. Should I be sizing tinfoil hats, or is there a pattern emerging?

  • I think we are giving the Administration too much credit.

    This isn’t diabolical, it is slimy, political pandering.

    Does the President want an expansion of federal programs with secukar oversight? Of course, but I don’t think there is much reflection on what that would mean going on at the White House. It is a want, nothing more.

    At this particular moment, the President wants, more than anything, to feel supported and loved. The timing of the end of Don’t ask, Don’t tell, the strike at the DOMA, the assault on No Child Left Behind, all of the immigration forays into legislative prerogatives… All of this is pandering, nothing more.

    The problem is that he has no clue what to do on a host of fronts and, so, is stepping in solely to draw attention away from his incompetence.

    His Middle East plan failed. Remember that “if we engage in self-loathing and fawning apologies for the existence of the West, they’ll love us.” How’d that work out? His economic plans are a failure too, though, in fairness, he played the Keanesian book to its limits. He has no idea how to get things moving. His healthcare plan is mired in legal problems and can’t be funded. His military doesn’t trust him and his intelligence services are without direction. Afghanistan is a slow-moving train wreck and Iran went nuclear despite all assurances from the President thAt “engagement” would bring them to heal. Israel and Turkey are no longer trusted allies and Europe sees no reason to heed anything we say. Putin rises, Obama falls. China holds our tether and international corporations flee US shores.

    All of the Administrations actions over the last three months are merely rear guard actions to cover wholesale retreat.

  • Perceptive G-Veg. As his popularity sinks Obama is playing to his base and only to his base. A man who has been hailed and applauded all his adult life is now widely regarded as incompetent and thus he goes where the remaining applause is.

  • Mary Ann Walsh and the Bishops promoted national health care for Obama nearly all along the way. Now the scorpion is doing what it was born to do.

  • An old and appropriate fable Jerry.

  • Don, this isn’t my area of law. Perhaps you have a more versed opinion.

    I see another piece of this that is troubling: HHS is, in essence, requiring that religious groups claim direct control over entities in order to bring them under the exemption.

    What I mean is that the regulation suggests that the exemption applies if entities come under the umbrella of, for example, a diocese. Thus, a diocese could take over direct management of a Catholic hospital or university and, so, bring them under the exemption. However, many religious organizations, not only the Catholic Church, are loathe to do this because the liability would attach – because doing so creates a monolith that can be toppled in one go.

    Using the Archdiocese of Philadelphia as an example: Supposing the Philadelphia Archdiocese took Mercy Healthcare, Villanova University, St. Joseph’s University, and a bunch of private, Catholic elementary and high schools under its wing in order to apply the HHS exemption. Then a jury finds against the Archdiocese in one of the suits and grants a ruinous award to the plaintiff. All of the entities under that umbrella would be liable for a plaintiff would argue that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has direct control over them. In essence, claiming the prerogative in the HHS context would be evidence of control in the liability context.

    Ugh. Am I reading this right?

  • Oh yes G-Veg. I have done enough personal injury work to be familiar with the ceaseless search for a deep pocket, and I cannot conceive how a diocese could establish an effective firewall in such a cirumstance to prevent liability from attaching.

Faster Than Light?

Monday, September 26, AD 2011

29 Responses to Faster Than Light?

  • Technically, Einstein’s postulates of Special Relativity (and thus General Relativity) don’t need the speed of light in vacuum to be the absolute speed limit, it only requires that there is a maximum! Now we will be talking about neutrino-years as measures of distances 😉

    Also, I, an astrophysicist-in-training (getting my PhD in a few), can assure you that GR works, and I can give an example that everyone uses on a regular basis: global positioning systems.

  • Unlike religion or politics, science will mercilessly pursue the evidence with repeated experiments

    Gotta love the totally gratuitous swipe at religion. What does the author (who identifies himself as a physicist) know about religion that he can make such a blanket statement? Has he himself mercilessly pursued the evidence regarding religion, or has he been a bit blinded by ideology?

    To some extent, his slam on politics is also inaccurate – polticians are notorious for following the opinion polls (i.e, evidence) of what the people want so they can tell them what they want to hear. Entire industries are built around it.

  • Dear Mr. Kanos,

    Please push your fellow scientists to work aggressively on this matter.

    I figure I have only forty or so years left until I face Judgment and there are a number of things that I’d like to do over. Being able to make time go backwards – I have specific dates in mind – would be quite useful to me.


  • *chuckles* There’s always a good chance that Einstein’s work, like that of those before him, is just very accurate where we can apply it and from where we’re looking. Part of why I like Star Trek’s FTL-by-slightly-changing-dimensions trick. (Come to think of it, isn’t there a theory that everything we think we know about space is only ‘true’ from a perspective like our own?)

  • I follow Lewis on that. It’s all picture-making.

  • A neutrino is an electrically neutrally particle that only weakly interacts with matter. It comes in three varieties or “flavors”: the electron neutrino, the muon neutrino and the tau neutrino. Each variety can be matter or anti-matter. Normally, a neutrino is given off in beta decay of radionuclides (for conservation of momentum), in fission events within nuclear reactors (my job speciality), and in fusion events within the sun.

    In the a beta decay where a neutrino is produced, a positron (the anti-matter beta) will be emitted from the nucleus and there will also be a gamma photon. However, if that decay produces an anti-neutrino, then an electron (the regular matter beta) will be emitted from the nucleus and there will also be a gamma photon. The rule of thumb is simple: regular electron means an anti-matter electron neutrino and a positron means a regular matter neutrino. These neutrino emissions are of the electron variety. Muon and tau neutrino emissions require much high energy levels.

    There is an issue with neutrino emission from the sun. Apparently electron neutrino emission is one third to one half of what the standard solar model predicts would happen from fusion within the sun (hydrogen nuclei fusing to form helium nuclei and releasing vast amounts of energy due to the conversion of mass into energy because hydrogen and helium nuclei occupy different positions on the binding energy per nucleon curve). Supposedly this deficit in electron neutrino emission could only happen if the neutrinos could switch flavors (e.g., transform from electron neutrino to muon neutrino) or oscillate. The oscillation implies that neutrinos have mass. Unfortunately I don’t have the time or mathematical ability to discuss this intelligently beyond reiterating what the scientists say.

    Now anything that has mass (like a neutrino or yourself or myself) cannot exist at light speed. The reason why is that the higher the velocity of a particle, the greater its mass until at light speed its mass is infinite:

    m = mo / [SQR ( 1-v^2/C^2 )]

    As velocity (V) approaches light speed (C), [(V^2)/(C^2)] approaches one. One minus one is zero. The square root of zero is zero. Rest mass divided by zero is undefined.

    So……we now have a report from CERN that neutrinos (I suspect electron neutrinos – I shall have to read the whole thing) have been found at greater than light speed. Of course, what’s true for the electron neutrino might likely be true for its muon and tau cousins. And if neutrinos do go faster than light, then there is a fundamental problem with the Theory of Relativity. There would also probably be something wrong with our understanding of the weak nuclear force under which beta decay (and neutrino emission) occurs, and the strong nuclear force (which binds quarks together into protons and neutrons, and keeps the integrity of the atomic nucleus). I wonder what Richard Feynman would say?

    We live in interesting times. (But I hope I didn’t make any embarrassing mistakes above.)

  • Whatever you say Paul! When it comes to science, other than the history of science, I retreat to History!

  • The Special Theory of Relativity is not Einstein’s in any meaningful sense. It was all worked by Larmor, Fitzgerald and Poincare before he came on the scene. (I do not have to warn you that you will come across a fair number of far-right sites if you google this.) Poincare was the scientist who gave the STR its modern garb. This is why all modern accounts start with something called the Poincare invariant and Poincare ‘boosts’ abound in calculations. Einstein’s gimmick was to take what others had painstakingly discovered, through experiment or profound examination of the foundations and declare them postulates. Thus he gets all the credit as a seer, whereas a great mathematician like Poincare (all of whose works the student Einstein read without acknowledgement), who did not accept that we needed to change our conceptions of space, time and simultaneity to the extend that the later development of relativity have it, is branded an unimaginative fellow – a ‘conventionalist’ if will. The hagiography surrounding Einstein is one of the wonders of the world.

    I do not know enough of the mathematics of the General Theory to handle it, but the claim that the viabilty of the GPS system proves the General Theory of Relativity is wrong. (See the internet discussions on this.)

  • I should have written – all of whose relevant works the student Einstein read…

  • I think Ivan is correct. Just look at the equation m = mo / [SQR ( 1-v^2/C^2 )] and you’ll see the Lorentz-Fitzgerald contraction as clear as day: ( 1-v^2/C^2 ). George Fitzgerald and Hendrick Lorentz came up with this in the late 1800s. I’ll leave the history to Donald. 😉

    I don’t know about the use of Global Positioning System devices proving or disproving relativity, but there are many confirmations in nature. For example, the bending of light rays around the sun was observed in 1919 as a confirmation of General Relativity which is built on Special Relativity – again, another history lesson in Donald’s court. A second example: the increase in particle masses as their velocity approaches light speed in a particle accelerator is consistent with the relativity equation provided above. A third example: the loss of mass in fission products compared with the mass of the Uranium-235 atom that fissioned on thermal neutron absorption: that loss is exactly consistent with the energy released in the fission event as plotted on the binding energy per nucleon curve, demonstating the validity of the famous equation, E = m * c^2. Coincidentally that fission event always releases 10 MeV of its 200 MeV of energy as electron neutrinos (which is the topic of the post that Donald made). The figures are a little different for fission of Uranium-233 and Plutonium-239, but the principle holds and relativity still appears valid.

    Therefore, to date, as far as I know (and none of us knows everything) each experimental test done to confirm or disprove relativity has in fact confirmed it till now – neutrinos being observed above (C) (which is 186,282 mps) at CERN.

  • Apparently these scientists didn’t get the memo :


  • To Paul D.’s point, can anyone explain why the discovery of a particle going faster than light speed necessarily implies that the arrow of time can be reversed? Time is a dimension like length, width and height or depth. It is the axis at right angles to length, width and height or depth. Of course visualizing that is very difficult (I can’t do it – not enough brain power). It’s like visualizing three pencils in your hands at right angles to each other and you try to make a fourth intersect at right angles. You can’t do that in three dimensional space.

    Now the unique thing about time is its arrow. It always goes from past to future. This means that events always have causes, and that events never precede their causation. To go backwards in time would invalidate this principle.

    However, there is something called charge – parity – time symmetry. I am not sure I understand this very well. Wikipedia states, “The implication of CPT symmetry is that a ‘mirror-image’ of our universe — with all objects having their positions reflected by an imaginary plane (corresponding to a parity inversion), all momenta reversed (corresponding to a time inversion) and with all matter replaced by antimatter (corresponding to a charge inversion)— would evolve under exactly our physical laws.”

    This symmetry can be violated on the quantum level. Supposedly there can be particles for which the arrow of time is reversed. Perhaps an example would be an anti-matter particle going forward in time might be an normal matter particle going backward in time. But maybe my explanation is bad because my brain can’t handle the math.

    Suffice it to say that time travel on a marcoscopic level is likely not possible. God set up the universe with an arrow in the fourth dimension pointed only one way and it’s just as well He did. The consequences otherwise would be devastating were man to discover how to go back in time.

    BTW, God being God is outside of space and time, matter and energy. He “sees” all the universe from the Big Bang 13.73 billion years ago to the cosmic dissipation billions and billions of years hence as one complete object. The miracle is that He decided to become incarnate – subject to the very laws of mathematics that He created. Perhaps we might consider Him a programmer using a software language called mathematics to create this universe. He isn’t in the run-time container (though as Jesus He did deign to go into the run-time container for a set period). He’s outside of space-time. But He doesn’t pull the strings as the Calvinist predestinationists thought. He lets the program run with the fuzzy logic built in – our free will, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, etc. He knows what will happen because He sees all of space-time now. But He lets us do what we will to do without programming our actions to occur. The program simply allows the actions. But I digress and talk about things on which I have no expertise. The point is that if we use the analogy of a software program (yes, a crude analogy), we can see why the program was designed to run in one direction and not another. It’s sort of like a Fortran program that starts at line 10 and runs to conclusion; there may be IF…THEN statements, GOTO statement, DO loops, etc., but the general progression is from beginning to end. Events never precede causes. That’s time. Does that make sense or am I all hosed up?

  • Well, C. S. Lewis had an idea that all talk of past, present and future in relation to God was pointless since he IS. This was Lewis’ idea of Eternal Now. See how Richard Land applies this to argue the Calvinist doctrine of predestination.

  • Sorry to post again, but yes, I do know that:

    Delta-t prime = Delta-t / SQR [ 1 – (v^2)/(C^2) ]

    This is “where Delta-t is the time interval between two co-local events (i.e. happening at the same place) for an observer in some inertial frame (e.g. ticks on his clock) – this is known as the proper time, Delta-t prime is the time interval between those same events, as measured by another observer, inertially moving with velocity v with respect to the former observer, v is the relative velocity between the observer and the moving clock, [and] c is the speed of light…” (Sorry, folks, I cheated and used Wikipedia.)

    Thus, the rate at which time proceeds for a particle at velocity (V) decreases as it approaches (C). We see this in the acceleration of radionuclides in particle accelerators. Their rate of decay slows down the faster they get. That means at light speed time would stop for them (which is clearly impossible because the particle’s mass would be undefined or infinite).

    So if we go above light speed, wouldn’t time go backwards? Well, the equation breaks down. (v^2)/(C^2) goes greater than one because (V) is greater than (C). One minus any number greater than one is always a negative number. The square root of a negative number is undefined. So I don’t necessarily buy into the reversal of time’s arrow UNLESS that reversal happens by going into a hidden dimension above four (there are Grand Unified Theories that speculate on dimensions up to 10 where in the Big Bang six remained rolled up but four unfolded: length, width, and height or depth). And once a particle goes into a hidden dimension, could it ever come out?

    I don’t think so. God designed time with an arrow for a reason – to keep us out of more trouble.

  • Paul Primavera- I really appreciate your analogy and thinks its an apt one which serves the purpose well. As for your statement that “Events never precede causes. That’s time.”, isn’t this a necessary logical truth of metaphysics?

  • Paul D., I think you are correct but I know little to nothing about metaphysics. I would say that what we know about physics today supports the validity of the metaphysics.

    However, as I was thinking about this whole thing, I recalled how back in Nuclear Power School decades ago we used to take the square root of negative numbers in electrical science class to define the relationship between real and reactive electrical power. We used the letter “i” (for “imaginary”) next to the number obtained by the square rooting process to denote that we had in fact taken the square root of a negative number. This could be used to explain the phase relationship between voltage and current coming out of a generator. Basically, they twist about each other in a sort of three-dimensional way, being themselves two dimensional.

    So if a particle goes faster than light, and time proceeds backwards for it, then would it not likewise twist but into a dimension above four just as two dimensional current and voltage can “twist” three dimensionally? But all this is surely just speculation. Once Charge – Parity – Time symmetry is violated, you can’t go back. The metaphysics says no, and the physics must follow.

    I am tired. Maybe I will think more clearly in the morning. I have to dig up all those old polar to rectangular coordinate equations so that Donald can be tortured with something other than history. 😉

  • Folks,

    I might have been incorrect in my last comment last night. I do recall something about the use of imaginary numbers (i.e., numbers resulting from taking the square root of a negative number) in electrical science classes a long time ago. I seem to recall this was in relation to computing impedance in resistive, capacitive and inductive circuits, and in calculating true, apparent and reactive power in AC systems. But while I was hoping to make an analogy with taking the square root of [ 1 – (V^2)/(C^2) ] when (V) is greater than (C), I just don’t remember the details. Too many brain cells have died in between US Naval Nuclear Power School and now. Suffice it to say that what happens to an object with a (V) equal to or greater than (C) is undefined and probably can’t occur in fourth dimensional space-time. In other words, events do not and cannot precede causes in space-time.

    Now the observation of neutrinos at a velocity greater than (C) at CERN raises some questions.

    (1) Is 186,282 mps in a vacuum – (C) – the speed limit for all particles of mass everywhere? In other words, might the speed limit be different depending on the type of particle being observed?
    (2) Or have neutrinos always existed a little above (C), and when at or below (C) they cease to exist? (This reminds me of tachyons – different topic for a different comment entry.)
    (3) Or does (C) as the speed limit change regardless of particle type and if yes, then what causes the speed limit to change?

    Regardless of the answers to these questions, I don’t think we will see time travel – at least not in our life times. The arrow of time holds valid.

  • These scientists are wrong. It’s neither the speed of light or neutrinos that are the fastest thing in the universe. It’s clearly a shopper heading to an empty checkout line.

  • Its interesting that these results are coming from CERN. One can only imagine the heads rolling, had it been announced from one of the hidebound US laboratories. Earlier CERN was in the news for some cloud experiments, that lent weight to Henrik Svensmark’s theory that much of the temperature rise that the global-warming cult would have us give up our freedom and comforts for, can in fact be traced to cosmic rays. Thus effectively dissipating the delirium of the champagne socialists as cosmic rays are beyond human control. I surmise that at least a few scientists at CERN have had ‘a road to Damascus’ experience after the failure to detect the Higgs particle and are now in full renegade mode.

  • @Paul Primavera: I do believe that, assuming the CERN research is correct, that the Lorentz boost factor would just have the denominator changed a little bit (an increase of about 0.0025%, maybe a bit more)

    @Ivan: GR GPS connection is definitive. I found a good website that shows a good proof of it (and some other GR tests)

  • For those who don’t know what the Higgs boson is, please go here:

    In the Standard Model we have the following for forces:

    The electromagnetic force mediated by photons which are massless
    The weak nuclear force mediated by W+, W- and Z0 bosons having mass
    The strong nuclear force mediated by red, green and blue gluons
    Gravity mediated by the Graviton (which has not been discovered)

    For leptons we have:

    Electrons and positrons, and electron neutrinos and anti-neutrinos
    Muons and anti-muons, and muon neutrinos and anti-neutrinos
    Taus and anti-taus, and tau neutrinos and anti-neutrinos

    For quarks we have:

    The +2/3 up quark and the -1/3 down quark, as well as their anti-matter variant
    The charm and strange quark, as well as their anti-matter variant
    The top and bottom (or truth and beauty) quark, as well as their anti-matter variant (Top or truth has not been discovered).

    NOTE 1: two +2/3 up quarks plus one -1/3 down quark = a proton, and two -1/3 down quarks plus one +2/3 up quark = a neutron. Quarks are held together by red, green and blue gluons – the strong nuclear force. Anti-quarks are held together by red, green and blue anti-gluons.

    NOTE 2: normal matter is electron / up quark / down quark dependent. A certain asymmetry resulted in matter dominating over anti-matter in the Big Bang. Additionally, matter made up of charm / strange quarks and muons, or top / bottom quarks and taus have not been observed in nature.

    NOTE 3: there is no quantum theory of gravity that can integrate the theoretical graviton with all this. We do have quantum electrodynamics which unites the electromagnetic force with the weak nuclear force mediated by W+, W- and Z0 bosons. We also have quantum chromodynamics which unites the strong nuclear force (mediated by gluons and affecting quarks) with the weak and electromagnetic forces. We still (as Ivan explained) have not discovered the “God” particle, i.e., the Higgs boson that gives particles their mass. So we still don’t know everything… things should be. 😉

  • “That’s time. Does that make sense or am I all hosed up?”

    No, I think does make sense Paul. @ at 9:20pm. Thanks, very interesting analogy. I’m still trying to visualize how time slows down as one speeds up.

  • Jasper,

    If you were the one speeding up, you would not see time for yourself speeding up. You would see time in the universe around you speeding up. If a person in the universe around you were watching you, then he would see you slowing down though you would swear that for you a second is still a second and a minute a minute and an hour an hour. You see, it’s all based on the velocity of light being invariant.

    BTW, if survivable the same thing happens at the event horizon of a black hole: If you’re near enough to that horizon, then you would see the universe speeding up, but the universe would see you slowing down.

    Here’s another thing: in Newtonian physics, if you’re in a car going at 30 mph and you throw a ball out of the car directly in front at 30 mph, then the total velocity of the ball is 60 mph. But close to or at light speed, that’s not the case. If you’re in a spaceship at 90% of light speed and you shine a laser beam directly out in front of you, then the beam still travels at light speed, NOT [ light speed + 90% of light speed ]. It’s the Lorentz-Fitzgerald contraction that makes things this way. There is no speed > (C).

    On a graph you would see time changing its vector, not light speed.

  • Here’s another thing: in Newtonian physics, if you’re in a car going at 30 mph and you throw a ball out of the car directly in front at 30 mph, then the total velocity of the ball is 60 mph. But close to or at light speed, that’s not the case. If you’re in a spaceship at 90% of light speed and you shine a laser beam directly out in front of you, then the beam still travels at light speed, NOT [ light speed + 90% of light speed ]. It’s the Lorentz-Fitzgerald contraction that makes things this way. There is no speed > (C).

    I have been lost in much of this, but this explanation was perfect. Thanks.

  • I find the following curious:

    (1) For an object at velocity (V) one day to him can be a 1000 years to a stationary object.
    (2) There are THREE sets of quarks: up/down, charm/strange, top/bottom
    (3) It takes THREE quarks to make a proton or a neutron
    (4) There are THREE kinds of electrons: the regular electron and its anti-matter variety, the muon and its anti-matter variety, the tau and its anti-matter variety
    (5) There are THREE kinds of neutrinos: the regular electron neutrino and its anti-matter variety, the muon neutrion and its anti-matter variety, the tau neutrino and its anti-matter variety
    (6) Quarks come in THREE sets of colors: Red and anti-red, green and anti-green, blue and anti-blue
    (7) The weak nuclear force is mediated by THREE particles: W+, W-, Z0
    (8) Atoms heavy than hydrogen are made of THREE particles: electron, proton and neutron

    Am I imagining things or making up patterns that don’t really exist?

  • Folks,

    I erred in one of my entries above. It is quarks (up/down, charm/strange, top/bottom) which come in “colors” red, green and blue. And it is gluons which bind them together:

    Two ups and one down = proton
    Two downs and one up = neutron

    There are however eight independent color states of gluons. You can read about that here:

    Sorry about the error.

  • So, based on the above, it seems time travel would be theoretically possible, at least one way? Forward, but no going back? It would be time travel in a “loose” sense – you would still be experiencing time, just at a different rate (eg, one second to the traveler could be like ten years to the stationary object)?

  • “It would be time travel in a “loose” sense – you would still be experiencing time, just at a different rate (eg, one second to the traveler could be like ten years to the stationary object)?”

    Yes, C Matt, that is correct. The closer you get to light speed, the faster you would see events in the universe proceed, and to a stationary object the events that proceed for you would preceived as slower. Taken, I suppose, to its logical conclusion, at light speed you stop and the end of the universe occurs. This same phenomenon happens at the event horizon of a black hole. Furthermore, the arrow of time permits “time travel” in one direction only. Anything other than that might allow events to precede causes. But these are merely words. The truth is in the equations which cannot always be adequately described by words.

3 Responses to Well, Guinea Pigs Are Cuter Than Gekkos

  • Guinea pigs are cuter than geckos.

    Dunno about that; a German tourist to Godzone last year was put in gol for six months for trying to smuggle some of our beautiful native geckos out of the country – other tourists have been heavily fined. Apparently, rare lizard species fetch huge prices on the black market.

    As for guinea pigs, I once owned a dog that would regularly appear home with a dead guines pig – no doubt raided from some home where a child was missing a pet. So as far as I’m concerned, guinea pigs are simply mobile dog tucker. 🙂

  • “…put in gol “???

    Actually , he was put in gaol. 🙂

  • “guinea pigs are simply mobile dog tucker”

    They certainly do not fare well in the wild!

Positivism, Ethics, & Law

Sunday, September 25, AD 2011

“A positivist conception of nature as purely functional, in the way that the natural sciences explain it, is incapable of producing any bridge to ethics and law, but once again yields only functional answers.”

– Pope Benedict XVI

“This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is “actually” innocent.  Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged “actual innocence” is constitutionally cognizable.”

– Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, writing on the Troy Davis case

I am curious about reader’s thoughts on the connection (if any) between the type of legal positivism endorsed by Justice Scalia and the gulf between ethics and law  described by Pope Benedict in his recent address to the German Bundestag. One possible view is that vigorously upholding the rule of law (even when it appears that the legally correct result may result in injustice) can be part of a larger moral project aimed at establishing a just society. When laws and legal precedent are infinitely malleable at the discretion (or, more pejoratively, whims) of individual judges, the law can quickly become an arbitrary and capricious exercise.

On the other hand, there is something surreal about making slippery slope arguments when the issue is whether or not a (very probably) innocent person should be executed (typically executing the innocent is at the bottom rather than the top of the slippery slope). At any rate, I would have struggled to explain to Troy Davis that his execution was a regrettable but necessary consequence of my larger theoretical legal project and the creation of a just society.

Now that I’ve phrased the question in a one-sided fashion, I’ll leave it open to the readers. Is there a tension between the positivism espoused by Justice Scalia and Pope Benedict’s insistence that law and ethics must always be linked? Does the belief that upholding the rule of law produces, in the aggregate, a more just society, resolve the tension in individual cases between legally correct but substantially unjust outcomes?


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20 Responses to Positivism, Ethics, & Law

  • CS Lewis deals with this issue indirectly in his essay “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment”. Ultimately in defending the retributive theory he acknowledges that though punishments may occur that are cruel, society as a whole, if they grow repelled by them, they’ll act to change that. He gives historical examples of juries finding criminals innocent because they knew the punishment was going to be to severe. His big criticism against humanitarian/utilitarian views are exactly that they remove the humanity of the person by removing dessert, and thus the possibility of an innocent being convicted for the sake of the utility of the punishment to society. They are good questions you raise, as one would tend to think of Scalia as a fan of retributive views of justice in general, but the view espoused above clearly seems to go against that.

  • This may not be germane, but it occurs to me that when H VIII made a practical end to Catholicism in England (and thus, Great Britain and the Empire), it left his Chancellor (popularly the “conscience” of the King) who wielded the power of the Chancery Court to mitigate injustice produced by the “law”, without guidance formed by the action of the Holy Spirit upon his conscience. So came 400 years of immanentist materialism ruling the waves. A positivist outlook comes with being an Anglophone. Scalia, despite being a Catholic of Italian descent, is the latter and hence has the former. It is a matter of grace to detach oneself from cultural prejudices that forestall reception of the transcendent truths of the Church. Many Protestants are pro-life. I think the Church needs a category like “righteous gentile” or maybe an extended catechumenate.

  • Here is Scalia’s dissent:

    Scalia I think was making two points. First, the Davis case had been going on for almost two decades through the state system. Davis had ample opportunity to establish his innocence in the state court system. Federal review had reached the same conclusion by the Eleventh Circuit.
    Here is the Eleventh Circuit’s decision denying Davis the opportunity for a second habeas petition.

    An appeal from this decision was what was before the Supreme Court.

    Davis was thus asking for yet another bite at the apple by an unprecedented habeas corpus proceeding by the District Court. Over Scalia’s dissent he got it. The District Court in a 174 page opinion reached the same conclusion that all the other courts had reached: Davis was guilty.

    I can think of no judicial system, based on either natural law or positive law, that can afford convicted criminals endless appeals until they get the result they want. In our system we also should be wary of endless federal interference in what are, after all, state criminal cases. To a very large extent federal review has pre-empted state autonomy in regard to criminal justice and that does raise serious constitutional issues mentioned by Scalia.

  • As I understand it the claim of actual innocence is comes from Mr. Davis’s attorneys, fulfilling their duty to vigorously defend Mr. Davis. Certainly his attorneys are to be commended for their diligence. .. But they have never been able to establish it in a court of law. As I understand it they got him more of a tact review than is customary but the judge did the review was extremely unimpressed with their representation of old and new facts, the evidence still supported guilt.

    I do think B XVI would support suspending an excution as an act of mercy, but I do not think he would support making a decision of fact that is contarary by the established facts. While one may decide to stop an execution on pragmatic grounds, is that not the sort of utilitarianism the Pope is talking about?

    Hank’s Eclectic Meanderings

  • I am a real amateur at this kind of question, so please let me know how far away I am from your question about the tension or lack of it in the two statements and the potential for a more just society

    I think B16 is discussing use of only functional method of finding answers leads to only functional answers… Scalia talking about not having that bridge to ethics for subjective application…that it has remained remained unresolved because they don’t have the tools within structure of precedents etc
    Jesus’ (and B16’s) approach to the law has those bridges, We have had 2000 years of Christian influence on the law but still still struggling with “yeah buts” , caveats and special cases….
    I am remembering that what happens to one man happens to all for whom the bell eventually tolls. We can’t be a just society if we are unjust to individuals. So in the aggregate, my answer is that society loses without those bridges.

  • Used to be, it was almost impossible to get an actually innocent man in to death row…it happened, of course, but very rarely. These days with the massive number of laws on the books (some assert that just in our normal, daily routines we are violating federal laws all the time) and the gigantic pressure which can be brought to bear by an out-of-control prosecutor (who will never be brought to account by another politician for fear of being “soft on crime), I’m not so sure. In Mr. Davis’ case, it does appear that he was up to a lot of no good when he was arrested…so, it isn’t like an innocent man was put to death, though there are questions about whether or not he did the deed he was condemned for.

    Scalia’s reasoning, in this, seems specious to me…but natural given the circumstances we have. Too many laws, too many lawyers…and average people are ground up in the system. Whatever method of justice we wish to have, we’ll have to go and start it from scratch at this point…our system is just too complicated and corrupted. Best would be a grand re-codification of US law in 200 pages or less.

  • “Used to be, it was almost impossible to get an actually innocent man in to death row…it happened, of course, but very rarely.”

    Actually the reverse is true. The procedural safeguards and endless appeals that hem in death penalty cases are very much a creation of the past half century. Prior to that time death sentences were carried out without appeals at all in some states. Mississippi had a mobile electric chair that would go from county to county to carry out death sentences shortly after the sentence had been imposed from 1940-1955.

  • John

    Think over your post some new thoughts cam to me.

    Personally I would not be disappointed if an Amendment were passed (by Congress and two thirds of the states) prohibiting the death penalty. But this has not happened. To say the constitution prohibit’s the Death penalty has a another ethical problem. The eighth helpful hint commandment –Thou shall not bar false witness. I do not see plausible means of saying otherwise.

    Since he is usually meticulous about such things, I am sure Justice Scalia’s statements represent statement of fact on the history of the courts handling of Habeas Corpus. Our system of government wisely provides different roles powers and limitations to the different branches and levels of government. This is fully in line with the Church’s teaching on subsidiary. Of course some with obvious good intentions hve tried to blur this to accomplish what is probably a worthwhile project. Doing this has often enough caused much more harm the hoped for good.

    I gather Justice Scalia was stating what he believed to be facts. His writing is a dissent so obviously others on the court had an honest disagreement.. But if in the interest of stopping an execution he stated something he did not believe to be true he would, with full knowledge and consent on a grave matter, be baring false wittiness. A serious ethical problem.

    He has to interpret the Constitution as he finds it not as he wishes it to be. If you think that is not the way it should be start a movement to amend the Constitution.

    Hank’s Eclectic Meanderings

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  • It seems like Scalia’s objection is probably best summarized in his summing up:

    Today, without explanation and without any meaningful guidance, this Court sends the District Court for the Southern District of Georgia on a fool’s errand. That court is directed to consider evidence of actual innocence which has been reviewed and rejected at least three times, and which, even if adequate to persuade the District Court,cannot (as far as anyone knows) form the basis for any relief. I truly do not see how the District Court can discern what is expected of it. If this Court thinks it possible that capital convictions obtained in full compliance with law can never be final, but are always subject to being set aside by federal courts for the reason of “actual innocence,” it should set this case on our own docket so that we can (if necessary) resolve that question. Sending it to a district court that “might” be authorized to provide relief, but then again “might” be reversed if it did so, is not a sensible way to proceed.

    If I’m reading him right here, he’s not saying that whether or not someone is actually guilty is, from a constitutional point of view, irrelevant to whether he can be legally executed, but rather that the court is sending the case to be reviewed by a court which, even if it determined that Davis were actually innocent, would not have any clear line of authority to do anything about it.

  • If I’m reading him right here, he’s not saying that whether or not someone is actually guilty is, from a constitutional point of view, irrelevant to whether he can be legally executed, but rather that the court is sending the case to be reviewed by a court which, even if it determined that Davis were actually innocent, would not have any clear line of authority to do anything about it.

    It seems to me that he is saying both. If the district court had found new exculpatory evidence after (over Scalia’s dissent) the Supreme Court ordered an evidentiary hearing, then Davis’s conviction would likely not have been upheld. In dissenting, Scalia was both expressing a view about the authority of the district court in certain circumstances and stating that ‘actual innocence’ was not a bar to execution after a ‘full and fair trial’. It is important to keep in mind that there can be substantial differences between the plain meaning and the legal meaning of what constitutes a full and fair trial.

    As it is, the conviction was upheld and the (admittedly brief) descriptions I’ve read of the 2010 trial suggest either Davis’s lawyers were incompetent or that they simply didn’t have the goods in terms of exculpatory evidence.

    In any case, I don’t think it can be denied as a general matter that Scalia’s judicial philosophy is substantially influenced by legal positivism.

  • I disagree that Scalia’s judicial phiosophy is influenced by legal positivism as such. I think Scalia does understand that a society should aspire to operate its legal system in accordance with natural law. The question is, who gets to decide what natural law is? Mindful that no human system for its determination is perfect, our system of government assigns lawmaking (or “lawfinding” if you prefer) power to the legislature representing the people. Judges are the custodians of the legislature’s decisions in this respect and are not accorded a warrant to substitute their judgment of natural law for that of the legislature’s. To act othewise would be ultra vires in principle and hubristic in practice. That is the nature of a federalist system with three branches of government, and it is a good system. While no doubt legislature’s are very imperfect in their lawmaking, judges would be far far worse. While Scalia no doubt appreciates the imperfections of legislatures, and no doubt holds disparate views of natural law in many cases, he understands his limited mandate and embraces the limitation with enthusiasm precisely because he believes, correctly, that allowing judges to substitute their lawmaking preferences for those of legislatures would almost certainly yield a much greater disparity between the positive law which he has been entrusted to apply and the natural law which legislatures have been entrusted to use in their enactment of positive laws.
    It is the job of legislators to enact positive laws that are consistent with and reflective of natural law; it is the job of the people to elect legislators who best understand this task; it is the job of the executive branch to execute and enforce those positive laws that have been enacted; and it is the job of judges to fairly and honestly construe and apply the laws that the legislature has enacted, even when they believe such laws are imprudent and even if they believe that they are imperfectly compatable with natural law. If such laws are so imperfect and odious that their faithful application would present a material cooperation with evil, a judge should say so and recuse; he should not however exceed his mandate simply because he can. That would be the true and perfect example of positive law — simply doing something because one has the “power” to get away with it.

  • I’m really in over my head here, but I think that Mike has the best explanation.

    There’s no necessary conflict between Benedict and Scalia. Justice dictates that no innocent man should be executed, and prudence dictates that each court have a specific domain. Besides, as a practical matter, if there were a case in which the correct positive legal decision violated natural law, I’m sure that Scalia would say just that. That may not carry weight in something like the gay marriage debate, but if he were to write at the end of a capital punishment appeal, “by the way, the guy obviously didn’t do it”, there isn’t a governor in the country who wouldn’t intervene.

  • Bravo Mike! I will have a post on Scalia and Natural Law tomorrow.

  • Thanks for an eloquent exposition of the position I gestured at in the post, Mike. It’s possible to believe that consistently applying a modest conception of the judicial role will result in a positive contribution to the common good.

    My concern is that even the best possible systems (let alone our current system) will produce unjust results in individual cases. I have substantial doubts about Troy Davis’s innocence (although I also have a reasonable doubt about his guilt), but let’s posit that he was actually innocent and that the evidentiary hearing in Georgia had come out the other way. Under Scalia’s view, it seems to me that the goal of preserving procedural requirements of the system have been subjugated to question of justice to the defendant for the purpose of that case. In other words, there appears to be a tension between a decision that best fits within Scalia’s view of the judicial role and a just outcome. In my view, when the matter concerns life or death for a potentially innocent person, the morally superior action is to adjust your judicial philosophy (a la Bush v. Gore, a “judicial bad hair day” in Scalia’s own words) rather than to state baldly that ‘actual innocence’ is not a bar to execution and vote to deny an additional evidentiary hearing. Even if Scalia’s facial legal positivism is only a symptom of a deeper commitment to establishing a just legal system, it seems to me that there has to be a point where commitment to creating a formally just system gives way to the need to ensure that the outcomes of that system actually are just. I recognize that the classic response to this concern is that it gives judges the license to make up laws as they go along and abuse their discretion; but, as a I said above, I find those types of slippery slope arguments rather beside the point when the question is execution.

  • It is hard to argue against the hypothesis that at some point a rule of positive law, regardless how clear, must give way to judicial discretion if necessary to avoid manifest injustice. As opposed to judicial activism as I am, even I concede the attractiveness of such a hypothesis. Assuming for a moment its sensibility, the standard is difficult to apply in practice and much heavy lifting is done by the words “manifest” and “necessity.” First, how certain must the jurist be that an injustice is at stake? In this regard the temptation will always be to substutute one’s judgment for that of others, which is precisely what is happening in the Troy Davis case. An assertion of “actual innocence,” even when combined with evidence that casts uncertainty on whether the reasonable doubt standard would be satisfied in the event of a retrial is not by any practical measure indicative of “manifest injustice.” Second, if an injustice is truly plain, is it not the job of the chief executive to exercise his responsibility to pardon? If he declines, isn’t it almost certainly because the injustice is not manfiest to him? Further, there is ample precedent for courts reversing convictions upon true proof of innocence, usually with the agreement of and often at the motion of prosecuters. In the end, while I acknowledge the hypothetical case of manifest injustice and the difficulty it presents in the abstract, the Troy Davis case does not remotely present such a situation.

  • In the end, while I acknowledge the hypothetical case of manifest injustice and the difficulty it presents in the abstract, the Troy Davis case does not remotely present such a situation.

    Thank you for another excellent response Mike. And for that matter, thank you to all of the commenters on this thread. I wish we had embedded comments here – it would make responding to each comment individually more manageable.

    It sounds like we agree in principle that manifest injustice may require a departure from the positive rule of law. We may differ in how we would apply that principle in the Troy Davis case depending on 1) our opinions on whether the additional evidentiary hearing was in tension with positive law (there seems to be some ambiguity on that question); and 2) if there was a tension, how we would resolve it. You think the bar needs to be very high to justify a departure from positive law; I think it should be lower in situations where execution or life in prison for an individual defendant are at stake.

    My question at this point is whether Scalia agrees with the principle we have articulated. From time to time he has been known to state his views in a colorful and forceful style that can give rise to misunderstanding and caricature. But when he says that ‘actual innocence’ is not necessarily a bar to execution, he is articulating a general principle that is not dependent upon his view of the innocence or guilt of Troy Davis. Is that general principle consistent with a belief that concerns about justice can override formal procedural considerations in cases involving execution? It seems to me that he is taking a more hard-line positivist approach than you subscribed to above.

  • I think that we’ve so lost the concept of binding law that Scalia feels the need to spell it out as clearly as possible. As someone said on the other thread, he does his best writing when dissenting. By its very nature, a dissent can’t accomplish anything other than provoke thought. So he lays out his judicial philosophy in a provocative way.

Pope Benedict’s Address to the Bundestag: God, Law, History and Politicians

Sunday, September 25, AD 2011

In the history of the Church we have had brilliant Popes, and not so brilliant Popes, an agile mind not necessarily being first on the list of priorities of the Holy Spirit when it comes to choosing Pontiffs.  Without a doubt, our current Pope is brilliant, his acute intelligence shining through his writings and his speeches.  This attribute of Pope Benedict was on full display when the Pope addressed the German Bundestag (national parliament) this week.  He gave a truly fascinating lecture on how what we mean by law has changed in modern times.  I suspect it went over the heads of most of his immediate audience, but it deserves study by all Catholics, and particularly those Catholics who, as I am, are connected with the law professionally.  Here is the speech of the Pope, interspersed with color commentary by me:

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9 Responses to Pope Benedict’s Address to the Bundestag: God, Law, History and Politicians

  • God bless Pope Benedict.

  • Awesome! Thanks for sharing, Don.

  • ‘Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he listens to his nature, respects it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself. In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled.’

    A lot there to parse, as well as the entire speech, which “sails over most of our heads,” I believe. This is a speech that needs to be studied and cannot be absorbed in one hearing or one reading. If nothing else, Benedict provides a lot of food for thought. I’m not sure he is right in saying, “Man does not create himself.” In a way, we all create ourselves and as for “listening to nature,” it’s never been clear to me what nature is saying except that it is totally objective and cares not a whit about mankind.

    Still, the Pope’s comments are always worthy of reflection. Thanks, Don, for posting.

  • Thank you Mrs. Z and Joe. In our soundbite and videoclip age, the Pope reminds us that the need for thought and analysis of complex matters has not disappeared.

    I join whole-heartedily in your sentiment T.Shaw.

  • Pingback: Positivism, Ethics, & Law | The American Catholic
  • I’m surprised there were no direct references to Communism.

  • Governments, especially of the U.S.A., could consider this address/appeal for action as well.
    “The conviction that there is a Creator God is what gave rise to the idea of human rights, …”
    “If something is wrong in our relationship with reality, then we must all reflect seriously on the whole situation and we are all prompted to question the very foundations of our culture.”
    “The same also applies to reason, according to the positivist understanding that is widely held to be the only genuinely scientific one. Anything that is not verifiable or falsifiable, according to this understanding, does not belong to the realm of reason strictly understood. Hence ethics and religion must be assigned to the subjective field, and they remain extraneous to the realm of reason in the strict sense of the word. Where positivist reason dominates the field to the exclusion of all else – and that is broadly the case in our public mindset – then the classical sources of knowledge for ethics and law are excluded. This is a dramatic situation which affects everyone, and on which a public debate is necessary. Indeed, an essential goal of this address is to issue an urgent invitation to launch one.”
    “In the awareness of man’s responsibility before God and in the acknowledgment of the inviolable dignity of every single human person, it has established criteria of law: it is these criteria that we are called to defend at this moment in our history.”
    “I think that, even today, there is ultimately nothing else we could wish for but a listening heart – the capacity to discern between good and evil, and thus to establish true law, to serve justice and peace. Thank you for your attention!”
    we are blessed by God to have Pope Benedict XVI so able to discern between good and evil, to teach us about our situation, and urge us to remember, question, debate, and defend, and establish true law. And to pay attention.

  • I liked the reference to positivist reason to a windowless bunker, while speaking several hundred meters from the site of the Fuehrerbunker at the Reichs Chancellery.

Compare and Contrast: Ride to Dubno

Saturday, September 24, AD 2011



Something for the weekend.  It rather astonishes me how time has flown, but in October The American Catholic will be celebrating its third anniversary which puts me in a nostalgic mood.  This is one of the first of the music videos that I run on Saturdays, from October 18, 2008.  Two versions of Franz Waxman’s immortal Ride to Dubno, aka Ride of the Cossacks:   dueling pianists and the full Hollywood treatment in the 1962 movie Taras Bulba for which the song was composed.  Great to listen to if you need an energy boost.

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6 Responses to Compare and Contrast: Ride to Dubno

  • That was great – too bad the guy played the B-flat instead of the B-natural at the 3:38 mark. If not for that, it would have been perfect!

  • You noticed that too, huh Larry? 🙂

  • This is a bit off topic.

    PBS is airing the first performance of the NY Philharmonic Orchestra’s 170th season. To my delight and mild surprise, it began with our National Anthem.

    Well done!

    And, the tuxedoed and gowned audience, as well as the conductor, sang it all.

    PS: Do any of your wive’s allow you to watch football? Meanwhile, I retire to the back yard to smoke a cigar and think happy thoughts.

  • What relief from the humidity.
    Hope the American Catholic carries on for Reason the way the music and the troops do in the video. That would be a great rally for joining in prayer during the upcoming 40 days for Life.

  • Congratulations on three years but if you want inspiration I recommend the following clips…the second has musical accompanyment. Despite the colorful legends that have been prepetuated about the Cossacks the reality is somewhat less fanciful…most Cossacks in the time of Tarus Bulba were lowly infantry rather than cavalry. The cavalry were mainly the Cossack nobility, and they while they were very good horsemen and could show off, they were not very good at fighting other cavalry, particularly the Poles, unless they had overwhelming numbers or allied with the Turks or Tartars.

  • In the 17th century the Cossacks were largely infantry. Good raiders and river (and Black Sea) pirates, their besetting military sins were a lack of discipline and effective supply. Crimean tartars did make up their lack of cavalry when they fought the Poles.