Eighteen Trillion Reasons to Fear for Our Future

401px-AvariceThere are eighteen trillion reasons to fear for the future.

Eighteen trillion of anything is a fearsome number. It suggests something beyond comprehension and outside the realm of reality. The number becomes even more unreal when it is attached to reasons. It boggles the mind since no one can actually reason in such terms. However, each one of these eighteen trillion reasons to fear for the future corresponds to something that does exist – in this case, an American dollar.

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It’s official. Some time this December 2014, the national debt passed the $18 trillion mark. The government now owes more than all Americans earn or produce in a single year.

Every one of these reasons is a cause for fear and concern. Each dollar represents a commitment that puts the future at risk. Since it is impossible to indicate the reasons why each dollar is a cause for anxiety, it is better to reduce the eighteen trillion reasons to four more manageable concerns.

The first major reason for concern is that the $18 trillion national debt reflects a culture of unrestraint. It leads to what has been called the “frenetic intemperance” of the times. People live with the idea that they must have everything instantly and effortlessly. They do not care to reflect upon the consequences of their spending and borrowing. They live only for the present, reject the idea of restraint, and come to rely upon the government to come to their aid. Such a mentality explains why the current government debt has reached the $18 trillion mark and why household debt is back up to pre-2008 levels at around $12 trillion.

The second major reason for concern is that such a huge national debt indicates something is terribly wrong with the concept of the government currently in place. When it takes an extra $18 trillion to run the government, it means the government is doing many things it should not be doing. Big government has assumed many functions that should be done by family, community or church at little or no cost to the Treasury. Tragically, this also means that something is terribly wrong with Americans who should be doing things they are not now doing and delegate to the government. All this opens the door for a vicious circle in which big government comes charging into the void… and gets ever bigger.

Yet another reason for concern is the nature of the current government debt. It is not like a normal loan that eventually is paid off. This debt trend never reverses; it never goes down and always goes up. Day in, day out, debt level constantly grows, dragging the nation down ever deeper, thus jeopardizing the future of the nation.

In addition, the growth is not even. It is terrifying to note that seventy percent of the $18 trillion debt has been contracted over the last six years. Moreover, the latest budget negotiations will allow the government to spend an additional $1 trillion of funds it does not have. Thus, by the end of 2015, there will be nineteen trillion reasons for concern.

Finally, the greatest reason for concern is that it appears that people are not willing to Subscription5.2sacrifice to remedy the problem. Everyone is willing to see the budgets of others cut, but not their own. Painful cuts must be made, but the sense of entitlement is too well entrenched for people to accept them. Too many people look upon America almost like an ATM which they use to improve their lives.

They should look upon America as a family. Everyone is in this crisis together – rich and poor, old and young, all groups and parties. When a family has problems, everyone pulls together to weather the storm. That is what is missing. Until America becomes like a family, as in times of crises past, there will be no solution to this problem. There will only be trillions more reasons for concern.

As seen on theBlaze.com

Jewelry Shop Economics

RTO_WatchQuite by accident, I came to frequent a jewelry store that would help me take care of those small problems with watches that can be so vexing. I was tired of department store attendants who could not replace batteries or change watch bands. It seemed that every time I took a watch in to be fixed, it was cheaper to get it replaced.

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That’s when I decided to visit a jewelry shop. It was the “little things” that impressed me. I was struck by how they took such care in doing things right. They served the customer with great skill and solicitude. Even their little paper bags with roped handles had a special charm. When my old department store watch broke, they proposed a reasonably priced, American-made watch with their name on it. I knew I could trust them to back up their name. I was even told that they would replace the battery free of charge for as long as I owned the watch.

Over the years, this watch has served me well. My jewelers have never let me down. After all, it is “their” watch; it has their name on it. Whenever there is a problem, I take it to the store and they take care of it, usually without charge. On my part, I spread the word that there is a good jewelry shop in town that treats people well.

Recently, the watch’s battery went dead and I rushed over to get it fixed before traveling out of state. I entered the small store and was greeted by those behind the counter. There is an atmosphere of pride and professionalism that permeates the store. I am impressed by the dazzling displays of beautiful and marvelous jewels. Through a window, one can see the workshop where the master jeweler works with his highly magnified and thick glasses so as to better see the jewels he fixes.

I presented my powerless watch to the lady at the counter who took it back to do the relatively simple job of replacing the battery.

It was then that the “little things” started to happen — those things that keep me coming back. After a short time, she returned and reported that the small rubber gasket on the back was starting to come apart and that it should be replaced. She enlisted the help of John, the master jeweler, who took it to his workshop and replaced the gasket free of charge. When he returned the watch, he asked me if I wore the watch on the right or left wrist. I replied the left wrist. He then said that if that was the case, the buckle on the leather watchband should be on the other side and promptly changed it. We exchanged pleasantries and I left the store.

During my encounter at the jewelry shop, not much commercial exchange took place. We really didn’t stimulate the economy. In fact, they received no money from me. However, I did give them my trust. And they reciprocated by giving me excellent service. We strengthened a precious relationship that money cannot buy.

My experience with the watch was for me a very practical lesson in the way economy Subscription3.1should be. It should be built upon honor and trust. There needs to be that human element by which people show genuine concern and a desire to serve others. There needs to be that passion for doing things well and right. Such things may not appear directly on the bottom line, but they are the foundation for good business.

I cannot help but think that this is what is missing in today’s frenzied markets. Everything is so focused on the big things: sales, massive production and quarterly earnings reports. The human element gets left out. If we are to return to a balanced economic order, more “little things” need to happen.

As seen on American Thinker

The Big Difference Between a Job and Work

250px-Unemployed_men_queued_outside_a_depression_soup_kitchen_opened_in_Chicago_by_Al_Capone,_02-1931_-_NARA_-_541927In face of a recession that never recedes, the assumption of a broad and growing prosperity for the middle class is in doubt. Gone are the heady days of the post-Cold War triumphalism of the nineties when optimistic observers believed that we might live forever in a kind of glorious consumerism.

Instead, there is a universal perception that the middle class has been “hollowed out” and the gap between rich and poor widened. Everyone denounces the growing ranks of underemployed, unemployed and those who have simply left the work force altogether. All sense something vitally wrong.

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Of course, those on the left clamor for middle-class job creation, more infrastructure projects, and job training, all paid for by government borrowing at today’s extremely low interest rates. Jumpstart the economy with shovel-ready projects, entitlement programs and good jobs, they claim, and all will return to normal. In a similar and more realistic vein, the right asks the government to free the market from its cumbersome regulations and taxes and it will generate jobs aplenty.

While both sides clamor for jobs, they fail to call for work. The old distinction between “job” and “work” could well shed some light on where we need to go to solve our economic problems.

The word “job” is recent, dating from the Industrial Revolution. Its original meaning was “a pile of things to be done,” and now insinuates something done indifferently for hire. On the other hand, the word “work” is a very old word dating back to medieval England. Its first appearance is in the eleventh century Aelfric Homilies which stated that “work was begun under God’s will.” Work refers to an activity done for its own sake, motivated by a pleasure or passion for that which is done, as in a work of love or a work of art.

And that is the problem with so many well-intentioned people calling for jobs–they don’t call for work. They create “piles of things to be done,” which once done leave us looking for further piles. The term “job” calls to mind the scandalously inhuman statement of industrialist Henry Ford who reportedly said: “Why is it every time I ask for a pair of hands, they come with a brain attached?”

That is to say that a job implies limited commitment on the part of employer and employee alike. It is an individualistic commercial contract based upon the rule of money as the standard upon which all is judged. Since the job is a mere unit of labor, the employer is free to shuffle these units around at will, even offshore. On their part, employees often assume an indifferent attitude towards their jobs—as willing pairs of hands—since their employment represents nothing more than the financial means to secure the pursuit of happiness and self-gratification.

What is missing is the human element that has been hollowed out of the economy. Our economy has taken on a mechanical character where people really don’t matter anymore since they are but numbers in bureaucratic databases or statistics in political campaigns.

Of course, there are times when people need “jobs” as temporary avenues to secure sufficient income to live. But the job should not be the norm. It cannot become a panacea for all our economic ills. Indeed, creating jobs for jobs’ sake tells people they are expendable.

Work is something different; it confers dignity and value. Because work involves a passion for something, it goes deep into the soul. Work is not all about money. It involves relationships, honor and loyalty that bind together employer and employee, producer and consumer, and even families and generations. Work looks for craftsmanship, profession and calling. It includes God since real work takes on a prayer-like character.

Happy are those whose jobs correspond to their work—and there are still many on all levels of society. They are dynamos for any economy since their work is full of that vital flux that infuses passion, excellence and meaning into commerce and society. Everything should be done to encourage “work” through sound family, tax and other policies.

However, the main action cannot be governmental. A “work” vision of society relies heavily upon rebuilding a moral infrastructure based on strong ties to family, faith and community. Moreover, it invokes God who, in His Providence, can “provide” for man much more efficiently than governmental bureaucrats.

The problem is so many are unwilling to even consider moral issues in the context of economic problems. They refuse outright to make the link between human relationships and business transactions. They prefer to reduce everything back to jobs.

Our efforts to rescue the present economy will be to no avail unless we look beyond the “piles of things to be done” and help those who will work to follow the desires of their hearts.

As seen on The Blaze

Fourteen More Ways to Promote Return to Order

Return_TO_at_CPAC_2014When people ask me how they might help promote Return to Order, I tell them that it helps to look at the opportunities surrounding them. You, too, will be surprised by the simple things you can do to get the word out about the book and its ideas.

Once again, I am listing some excellent suggestions for friends of authors by book promotion expert John Kremer. Below is an edited version of fourteen more things you can do.

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1. Do a video review of the book and post it on YouTube and other video-sharing websites. Hold the book up and showcase it as you review it. It doesn’t have to be long. One or two minutes is long enough.

2. Help your friend make some videos for the book. Every author needs a camera person, a scriptwriter, a producer, someone who can create a book trailer. Again, share on YouTube and other video-sharing websites. Share it on your social networks and your blog.

3. Recommend your friend’s book to your local librarians. Encourage them to buy the book. Let them know if the book is by a local author. Note: Libraries often order copies of books based on the inquiries they receive for the book. If the library refuses to order the book, buy a copy and donate it to the library.

4. Recommend your friend’s book to your local bookstores. Encourage them to buy the book. Let them know if the book is by a local author. Bookstores also stock books based on demand. The more people who ask about a book, the more likely it is that the bookstore will stock the book.

5. Encourage bookstores to feature an author’s appearance. Ask your local bookstores to invite the author to do a short talk and book signing at the store. Talk to the bookstore manager or community relations specialist. Also ask your library to do the same.

6. Look for specialty retailers. As you drive around your own hometown or a nearby larger Gun_Show_1city, keep on the lookout for specialty retailers that might be interested in selling your friend’s books. For instance, cookbooks in gourmet shops, do-it-yourself books in hardware stores, children’s books in toy stores, art or history books at museum shops. Make the contacts yourself or pass them on to your friend to follow up.

7. Look for other sales venues. If your friend’s book is about retirement, check out accountants, tax lawyers, etc. who might be interested in buying copies to give to their clients. Health books, children’s books, and cookbooks might interest doctor and dentist offices. Health clubs and gyms might be interested in exercise or diet books. Again, make the contacts yourself or pass them on to your friend to follow up.

8. Suggest catalogs, associations, and other special sales opportunities. If you receive mail order catalogs that feature books like your friend’s book, tell the author about the catalog. The same with associations, groups, corporations, etc. that might be interested in buying bulk copies of your friend’s book.

9. Be a mentor. Provide feedback on your friend’s marketing ideas, book proposals, news releases, book covers, etc. Share your experience, if you have any, on marketing, writing, publishing, printing, design, etc.

10. Write a testimonial. Or write an introduction to the book. Blurb it–give a great selling quote that can go on the back cover of the book. Encourage the author to put your testimonial up on his book’s sales page.

11. Social network for your friend. Tweet about your friend’s book. Retweet his tweets. Engage in a conversation with the author on Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, or Twitter. Pin. Repin. Post. Share. Tweet. Retweet. Plus One. Like.

12. Write comments on your friend’s blog. Interaction and activity increase any person’s Subscription6visibility on the Internet and the search engines.

13. Champion your friend’s book. When you visit bookstores, make sure they have your friend’s book in stock. If they do, then put the book face out on the bookshelf. Carry the book around with you so others can see it.

14. Pray. Prayer always helps. Pray for your friend and his book.

Here are suggestions to help promote Return to Order. Yet more will be forthcoming. Please feel free to contact me if you need help with these suggestions or to report on your success. I can be reached directly at jh1908@aol.com. Once again, give special heed to the last suggestion—it is the most needed and appreciated.

Making a Distinction About Market Prices

7162535965_3060bb95d0_bThe late Jesuit Fr. Bernard Dempsey was an excellent economist who knew how to apply relevant theological considerations to his discussions of the market economy. He defends the Catholic Church’s scholastic school of economic thought (1500-1650) against the naturalistic liberal school. He makes the following distinction:

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“The chief difference between scholastic just price and classical natural price is that the Subscription5.2liberals believed their deistic Providence constituted fair markets automatically through the magic of competition, no matter how hard men tried to make them unfair. The guildsmen believed that men were sons of Adam as well as of God and that the accomplishment of the designs of Providence required the sedulous application of human reason as well as cooperation with divine grace” (Bernard W. Dempsey, S.J., The Functional Economy, The Bases of Economic Organization, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1958, p. 100).

Does Loving Our Neighbor Mean Giving Him Everything?

448px-Drolling,_Michel_-_Alms_to_the_Poor_-_19th_cThere are some who claim that the Divine Commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself means to treat all with equal charity. Such a misconception can have disastrous effects upon an economy or society, since it is not possible to give everything to everyone.

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Saint Thomas Aquinas, commenting on Saint Augustine’s observations, claims that in loving one’s neighbor, one must make a distinction between “benevolence” or “goodwill” which means desiring a good for others without actually providing it, and “beneficence” or “doing good” which means actually providing what others need out of one’s own scarce goods.

Saint Thomas notes: “As regards beneficence we are bound to observe inequality, because we cannot do good to all: but as regards benevolence, love ought not to be thus unequal.”

(As cited in John D. Mueller, Redeeming Economics: Rediscovering the Missing Element, ISI Books, Wilmington, Delaware, 2010, p. 142.)

How Eating Was Industrialized

chinese_factoryPsychiatry professor Peter Whybrow comments that what Henry Ford did for cars, McDonald’s did for fast food. It industrialized eating. The original intention of fast food was fast service. However, the end result has been fast eating. Everything about McDonald’s in particular and fast-food in general is about speed. Eleven minutes is the average time a customer spends at a fast-food outlet.

Every effort is made to speed up yet more the food-producing process. An extreme example of how this is done can be found in Thomas Friedman’s book, The World is Flat. He tells of a McDonald’s in Cape Girardeau, Missouri that outsources its drive-through window orders to a firm in Colorado. The customer is ordering a mere five feet away yet must talk to someone two states over to take his order. Friedman points out how this increases efficiency by shaving a few seconds off on each order.

Another way eating is industrialized in fast food is by its standardization and Mcdonalds_mealtaste engineering. McDonald’s and other chains use a wide variety of synthetic ingredients, artificial sweeteners, high fructose sugars and trans-fats to ensure that each product will always be the same. “In the international fast-food business,” Dr. Whybrow notes, “McDonald’s is the legendary benchmark of standardization, ensuring that a Big Mac will taste exactly the same in Moscow as it does in Chicago.” (Peter C. Whybrow, American Mania: When More is Not Enough, W. W. Norton, New York, 2005, p. 199.)



Stop the Madness of Un-Thanksgiving

turkeyAs we gear up for the Thanksgiving holidays, many are preparing to engage in a strange new ritual that is crowding out the traditional turkey and pumpkin pie. The ritual, of course, is the extension of Black Friday shopping into Thanksgiving Day. It is a practice so shocking that we might as well create a new holiday—un-Thanksgiving—since nothing could be more contrary to the intention of the real holiday than its present evolution.

This year, media will again report on frenzied shoppers mobbing retail stores in search of super bargains. People will camp out in front of giant box stores for hours on end to get the jump on their fellow bargain hunters. Indeed, there is the extreme case of some fanatical California shoppers camping out at Best Buy a full twenty-two days ahead of the un-Thanksgiving stampede.

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Undoubtedly, such shoppers will find bargains. And retailers will also be making lots of money. But the new un-holiday is not about bargains. It’s about joining in the frenzy. It’s about the thrill of entering into a culture of unrestraint. ”Joining in the frenzy” has been with us for a long time. It is a manifestation of a deeper problem that has long plagued our culture. There is what might be called a restless spirit of frenetic intemperance inside modern economy that helps destroy limits, break down traditional institutions (like Thanksgiving) and encourage instant gratification.

Un-Thanksgiving just takes this experience to new depths. In this new buying binge, we see more clearly the terrifying consequences of our extreme individualism that leads people to enter, to paraphrase Hobbes, into a veritable “war of every shopper against every shopper.” We sense the frustrating burden of materialism that compels shoppers to buy the latest and greatest gadgets that will eventually clutter their basements and garages. There is the paradox of celebrating a bland and sterile secularism on a day set aside to thank God for His blessings.

The result of this “joining in the frenzy” is that we are losing that human element so essential to life together in society. Things are becoming cold and impersonal, fast and frantic, bland and superficial. Un-Thanksgiving is not just a shopping spree; it’s a brutal celebration of this cold, frenetic spirit.

There are three reasons that might be cited to explain why this un-holiday has only appeared now.

The first is because of the ever-accelerating pace of life. In our culture of unrestraint, everyone must have everything, now, instantly, effortlessly. Marketers have ramped up the calendar to sell things earlier. Technology has responded with newer and faster ways to spend the money we often don’t have. Ironically, un-Thanksgiving is made possible by i-Phones, i-pads and so many uberdevices that facilitate our mad rush to experience life ever faster…and that are sold at giant discounts on a now Black Thursday.

The second reason is more profound. Un-Thanksgiving involves “joining in the frenzy,” which speeds us up. Real Thanksgiving is about connecting with family, community and church that slows us down.

Indeed, the sad state of our social institutions is what makes this frantic un-holiday possible. When family ties wither, mature adults can spend twenty-two days camped out in front of Best Buy to get gadgets “to die for,” rather than stay home and cultivate values to live for.

On the contrary, Thanksgiving happens when the norm of life is for each individual to belong to a family, community and parish church. Then, traditions, customs, habits, and ways of being can be passed down from generation to generation. These three social anchors provide a solid mooring for a “Thanksgiving” society.

Today, these institutions are no longer anchors, but options. The present culture encourages so many to opt-out of all three. At the same time, we are all pressured to accept the option of “joining in the frenzy.” We have now reached that tragic tipping point where frenzy can compete with tradition…and tradition often loses.

The final and most important reason why this un-holiday has appeared is because our secular society has effectively dethroned God to whom we should render our thanksgiving. A politically correct tyranny has exiled God from the public square, the school and workplace. Even in the home, God is often ignored amid the rush of everyday life. When God is no longer the object of our longings, the spiritual vacuum will be filled by material idols found in our shopping-mall temples on major un-feast days.

Fortunately, the notion of Thanksgiving still resonates in the hearts of many Americans. They deplore the exploitation of the holiday and seek a return to order. However, it is not enough to simply return to the turkey and fixings. Rather, we must stop “joining in the frenzy” that destroys economies and cultures. We must reconnect, give thanks and have recourse to God and call upon His blessings

As pubished on Spero News.

Second Warning

norman-79860_640The first warning was pretty clear.

Back in May, a group of central bankers and financial analysts met together in Basel, Switzerland and issued a report on the dire state of the world economy. The 2014 annual report of the Bank of International Settlements then claimed that the present climate is as fragile and volatile as it was during the Lehman Brothers crisis in 2007.

Read the popular article: We Must Resist the Temptation to Secession

Now in September, a no less impressive group of seventy central-bank officials and other monetary experts met in Geneva and issued their own report under the auspices of the International Centre for Monetary and Banking Studies (ICMB). Their message: Something is dreadfully wrong with the way we are dealing with the crisis. The measures being taken to bolster the present, toothless “recovery” are not working.

The very title of the new warning is telltale if not a bit cynical: “Deleveraging, What Deleveraging?” The report claims the logical reaction to any kind of crisis like the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis would be to “deleverage” or radically shed debts. While American households had the good sense to temporarily shed debt (it is now back where it once was at $12 trillion), most governments have not done so. In fact, the report shows that global debt, excluding the financial sector, just keeps on growing, rising some 36% since 2008 to a record 212% of GDP.

The underlying logic behind the policies criticized is an exaggerated fear of deflation. In typical Keynesian fashion, policy makers are actually crafting their actions to provoke higher inflation. They reason that higher debt is easier paid with less valuable dollars and that consumers will spend more now if they perceive higher prices later.

Central bankers have actually tried to induce inflation by pumping money into the economy with measures like the Fed’s w6yra8quantitative easing (QE). Indeed, just when it seemed that the Fed would end the money pumping that keeps the debt party going, Japan has recently announced its own quantitative easing program that takes the baton from the Fed and keeps the global dollars flowing. European backers also are offering their own version of QE as a “stimulus.” At the same time, interest rates are kept artificially low to keep money circulating without restrictions.

The bankers’ report notes that the money-pumping policy has failed to live up to expectations. It has neither induced inflation (which they see as a positive factor!) nor led to fast growth. Instead, modern economies are plagued by a “poisonous combination” of rising debt and slow growth, imperiling the global economic scene. This complicates “deleveraging” and encourages expanding debt.

Moreover, artificially suppressed interest rates add to the problem since they discourage savings, inhibit capital formation and lead to bargain borrowing. Without proportional growth, such misguided measures greatly increase the burden of debt service in the future.

It is no surprise that governments are major contributors to expanding debt. The American public debt ratio alone has climbed 40 percentage points to 105% of GDP since 2008. When governments maintain high debt levels, it increases the vulnerability to financial crises and gives rise to unrealistic hopes of government bailouts.

Nor is America alone in amassing debt. The report reveals that the same debt overload that provoked the 2008 crisis in developed counties has now appeared in emerging countries which “remain extremely vulnerable.” Early signs of the next financial crisis are “already visible this time around in some emerging economies and especially in China.”

Subscription5.3The Geneva report reflects a growing anxiety among central bankers who are deeply divided over what to do about policies that have yielded so few good results. The report suggests no concrete plan beyond the wishful thinking that a crisis might still take some time to happen.

However, experience has shown that an economy cannot be regulated, legislated and stimulated back to order. Solutions must be found beyond the economic formulas and figures, outside the Keynesian playbook. It is not only the financial and banking officials that are at fault, but a whole frenzied economy that reflects the present policies. What is needed is moral restraint and common sense on all levels of the markets to combat what might be called the “frenetic intemperance” of the times.

A second warning has been issued. Can the world afford to wait for more?

Religion Inspires Scientific Progress

what_we_can_oYet more evidence that religion promoted and inspired scientific progress can be found in the lives of the actual scientists who helped establish modern science.

Read the popular article: Why a Conservative Victory is not Enough

Economic historian Lynn White Jr. reports that, “Every major scientist from about 1250 to about 1650, four hundred years during which our present scientific movement was taking form, considered himself also a theologian: Liebnitz and Newton are notable examples.

The importance to science of the religious devotion which these men gave their work cannot be exaggerated” (Lynn White Jr., Machina Ex Deo: Essays in the Dynamism of Western Culture, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1968, p. 101).