Why Regulation Does Not Always Work

“The real solution involves the hard work of creating a climate of honesty, honor and integrity”

It is astonishing to see how so many people think unbalanced markets can be regulated into order. They think that stopping abuses with straitjacket regulations will solve all problems. In the case of frenzied markets, this usually addresses the effects not the causes of financial instability. Moreover, most regulations, however good-intentioned, are often circumvented by the very offenders that gave rise to the restrictions in the first place.

The need for regulations usually involves moral not economic issues. People become engaged in what might be called frenetic intemperance, which incites them to have everything, instantly and effortlessly. It causes people to scorn the traditional restraints of markets and get involved in fast-paced financial activities without links to moral principles and even economic reality.

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One recent example of how frenetic intemperance is harming markets is China’s corporate bond market. It is a typical case that shows how regulations don’t always work because they do not address causes.

The communist Chinese have long mastered the art of circumventing regulations. When formal economic banking instruments are prohibited, they often resort to informal “shadow banking” substitutes that are unregulated by authorities. Shadow banking system volumes often come to exceed those of the formal banking system before regulators finally shut them down. However, each time the Chinese government tries to cut off the shadow schemes, other avenues always appear to take up the slack.

The latest and fastest growing Chinese shadow banking scheme is called entrusted banking which circumvents the prohibition of corporation-to-corporation lending. The way it works is that cash-rich firms—many of them government owned—find a willing bank to serve as middleman to lend to a struggling credit-hungry company. The obliging bank gets a cut in the profit but shares none of the risks.

What Does Saint Thomas Say About Immigration?

And the risks are great. Most loan candidates are only given a minimum vetting for creditworthiness by the lending corporations. These loans harm the economy because it prevents these rich companies from reinvesting in their own operations, since they prefer to receive tantalizing interest payments of up to twenty percent.

Entrusted loans are usually the last recourse of blacklisted companies that would not qualify for normal loans. The economic slowdown in China has only increased the number of these credit-starved companies since many industries are operating at overcapacity. Indeed, the amounts lent by this method went from less than 1 trillion yuan in 2004 to 13.2 trillion yuan in 2016. Almost a third of new loans are made through this serpentine system.

Finally, the loans serve to throw the economy out of balance since the inefficient sectors are artificially propped up, and the credit money would be better used elsewhere. The loans often hide corruption and failed government projects that overburden the economy. They also add to the nearly $18 trillion in corporate debt already outstanding.

The entrusted loan scheme now running rampant in China only points to the real cause of financial instability worldwide. When economy becomes unmoored from moral principles and ethics, anything becomes possible. Loopholes and sweetheart deals appear and are exploited. Gluts are subsidized and throw world markets into disarray. It creates financial bubbles that has repercussion on all parts of the economy. It is no wonder that Western bankers are beginning to feel anxious about the bad effects of this latest scheme in China’s economy and asking that measures be taken against it.

Of course, the offending practices should be banned and restrictions put in place to prevent their return. However, it does no good to simply ban the practices without addressing the cause found in the frenetic intemperance of modern economy. In this case, regulations usually penalize the honest and small businessmen who are the least capable of dealing with the burden of restrictions.

The real solution involves the hard work of creating a climate of honesty, honor and integrity that naturally tempers economy. It also involves strengthening the God-given regulating institutions of family, community and faith that produce the social capital necessary for sound economy to flourish. Until this is done, regulation will not always work since there will be an ever-growing number of those who will find ways to operate in the dark shadows of economy to the detriment of all.

The Invisible Army That Occupies America

The Invisible Army That Occupies America

“this mysterious legion is an inactive and passive force of sluggish soldiers that weighs heavily upon the nation.”

Over the past few decades, America has been invaded by an invisible army of ten million men. The impact of this army is fast becoming a crisis in urgent need of solutions.

You might assume that this army is made up of illegal immigrants who are taking away jobs and overwhelming social services. But in fact, this mysterious legion is an inactive and passive force of sluggish soldiers that weighs heavily upon the nation.

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This army is the subject of Nicholas Eberstadt’s masterful study, America’s Invisible Crisis: Men Without Work: ten million American men of prime working age who now “spend absolutely no time at a job and are not acting to alter that situation.”

These idle men comprise some ten percent of the male workforce. They are evidence that the work ethic that made America great has all but collapsed among certain sectors of the public. Worse yet, this invisible crisis has been largely ignored by sociologists and scholars, perhaps in favor of trendier social problems that garner greater attention.

Eberstadt correctly maintains that this is not only a social crisis but above all a moral crisis. Those who should be breadwinners do not want to hold a job. Those who should be dependable are now listed as dependents. A culture of industriousness has been replaced with a system that “encourages sloth, idleness, and vices.”

While the scale of the crisis is invisible, we have all seen it in isolation. Everyone knows relatives, friends and acquaintances that fit into this strange category of men fleeing from work. It is only when the facts are laid out in all their totality that scale of the crisis begins to sink in.

What Does Saint Thomas Say About Immigration?

That is the merit of Eberstadt’s book. The author has all the facts and proves his points convincingly. He further presents plenty of graphs, charts and statistics without appearing overly academic and stuffy. These help him tell his story and thankfully require little scholarly background to understand.

their activities include “attending gambling establishments,” “tobacco and drug use,” “listening to the radio,” and “socializing and communicating with others.”

Again Eberstadt makes explicit what most people implicitly know. Something is terribly wrong with a subset of men in our society. He lays out just who these “ghost soldiers” are, how they are supported and what they are doing. He acknowledges that there is a certain sector of nonworking men who are in training or pursuing education. However, his focus is on the vast majority that falls outside this category. These are the men who don’t want to work even if a good job were offered.

Most of these voluntary “un-workers” are the result of the breakdown of the family and society. A majority without work are uneducated and unmarried. Many have shirked the responsibility of family life and live lives of self-absorbed gratification. They lack what Eberstadt calls “the motivations, aspirations, priorities, values, and other intangibles that do so much to explain real-world human achievements.”

What is a bit surprising is that these men are not in bread lines or soup kitchens. They are hardly rich but not necessarily poor. Most of these men live reasonably comfortable lives due to the support of wives, girlfriends, aging parents or government welfare. Some even rely on two or three government or disability programs to survive. With such support, there is no motivation to look for jobs.

So what do these idle men do with their time? Nothing productive. Eberstadt distinguishes between leisure that “refines and elevates” while “idleness corrupts and degrades.”

“In short, these men do not want to grow up.”

There is no doubt under which category the un-workers fall. Surveys find that their activities include “attending gambling establishments,” “tobacco and drug use,” “listening to the radio,” and “socializing and communicating with others.” Another pastime among men in this category includes watching television and movies, which consumes an average of five and a half hours a day.

Indeed, they have abandoned normal adult pursuits and responsibilities. Many of them have been involved in criminal activities that further isolates them from normal society. They fill their days with gadgets and pastimes that are causing what Eberstadt does not hesitate to label as their “infantilization.”

And that is the tragedy. What America is witnessing is the appalling waste of manhood. “In short, these men do not want to grow up.” These are men who do not want to do what men should do. They do not want to be husbands, to commit themselves to a stable and permanent relationship with women and form families. They have little interest in being faithful citizens, in getting involved in their community, volunteering or shouldering the burdens of civic responsibilities.

In short, these men do not want to grow up.

Eberstadt hopes to make this invisible army visible. He wants to start a public debate, even taking the unusual step of publishing dissenting views at the end of his book.

The debate is sorely needed since the problem will not be solved by mere economic growth or new jobs. An army of ten million men occupies America’s land and cities with little desire to contribute to the common good. Like any occupying army, they weigh down the system, the treasury and the ethics of the nation. Promising jobs to these men without work will not solve the problem. The system that facilitates them must be reformed. Real change, however, will only happen when these infantilized men man up.

As seen on stream.org

What Can We Expect for 2017?

What Can We Expect for 2017?

“The key to survival is fidelity to our Christian principles and confidence in Providence.”

As we enter 2017, many people are still recovering from the stress and drama of 2016. From a political, social and religious standpoint, 2016 was a year of unexpected and unimaginable turmoil. The year brought us to the edge of a tall cliff.

Equally traumatic and unexpected were the last-minute rescues from disastrous descents into the chasm below. Fortunately, the plunge to ruin was avoided (for now) not only by the unexpected results of the American elections but some good reactions worldwide, in which people brexitted away from global and socialistic “solutions” which they saw as overbearing and catastrophic. The death of Communist icon Fidel Castro added yet another blow to leftist movements everywhere that suffered terrible defeats in 2016.

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The situation, however, remains dangerous and tenuous, as instability, uncertainty and chaos are found everywhere. The frenetic intemperance of our frantic lifestyles has upended so many of the anchors and convictions that keep a society well-grounded and balanced. A great confusion exists inside the Church about moral teachings. Society appears to have lost the moral compass that would help us find our way out of the present mess.

And so entering 2017, we have not yet gone off the cliff; rather we have only avoided disaster. We are still precariously perched on the edge of a precipice looking out over a vast and alarming panorama. Choices must now be made to find a way out. Avoiding disaster does not mean the fight is over. It only means a new phase has just begun.

If 2016 was the year of the unexpected, we might well ask what we can “unexpect” for 2017.

“we should imagine a giant rollercoaster with all sorts of twists, turns and dives that can be extremely dangerous”

If there is a new image that might be used to describe the coming 2017, it might be that of a roller coaster near the precipice. It is admittedly a strange metaphor since roller coasters do not typically appear near cliffs. However, the image somehow fits since it reflects the carnivalesque atmosphere of a political year full of twitterfests, email hacking wars and reality show antics that characterized events both here and abroad.

Thus, we should imagine a giant rollercoaster with all sorts of twists, turns and dives that can be extremely dangerous, nerve-racking and dizzying. This particular roller coaster does, however, allow for turns and alternative routes depending on the skills and capacities of those in the cars.

Those who avoided disaster are euphoric because this unexpected rollercoaster appeared on the precipice. They have entered the cars and are festively celebrating. Others are frightened and angry at the prospect of leaving what they think is the security of the precipice for the risky route ahead. They enter the cars reluctantly.

As the rollercoaster starts to pull out from its resting place, everyone, festive or angry, on the right or the left, needs to prepare for the first descent. They need to strap themselves in. If not, the cars will become a tangle of highly emotional and irrational people struggling to survive the unexpected twists and turns that will inevitably come.

What Does Saint Thomas Say About Immigration?

This is the state of the world today. We are beginning to descend from the precipice for a ride from which we can “unexpect” just about anything to happen. There are political challenges found in an increasingly aggressive China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran from which we expect war, an uneasy peace and anything in-between. Islamic terrorism can and does ruthlessly strike anywhere and in unexpected places – even open-air Christmas markets. There are financial challenges ahead in the form of asset bubbles, massive debt and regulation. There are the moral problems like abortion, assisted suicide, attacks on marriage and sexual identity issues that are promoted everywhere. These leave in their wake a trail of broken marriages and families, shattered lives and relationships, devastated communities and empty churches, that turn people’s lives upside down.

How we deal with these challenges will determine the course of the roller coaster ride we can expect in 2017. All we really know now is that it will be full of unnerving twists, turns and dives. We may even crash if not careful. No one can predict what will happen in the face of so many unknowns. However, there is only one way to be prepared for the roller coaster ride. We need to be strapped inside by our principles that will hold us firmly in place and allow us to make the proper judgments to guide the cars away from disaster.

Even with the straps in place, it will not be an easy ride. There will be those inside the cars who think they can leave their principles behind and ride unrestrained. There will even be those who will scoff at the laws of physics and believe that they can do their own thing regardless of gravity and reality. When the unexpected twists and turns happen, such occupants will create havoc inside the car. There needs to be enough heroic people inside the cars who are strapped in by their principles and can step up to the plate and return things back to order.

But these principles cannot be just any principles or values. They cannot be based on emotions or feelings that guide so many people today down the road to disaster. Rather they must be tied to an objective moral law as enshrined in the Ten Commandments. These principles should be embedded in institutions like marriage, the family and private property, without which any return to order is impossible.

The principles must lead us back to God, the Source and Creator of all order. We must have recourse to God if we are to survive the dangerous path down the mountain.

In 2017, we might ‘unexpect’ Divine action. As the hundredth anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima approaches, it is impossible for Catholics not to think of her Message in 1917. Looking at the past, we saw her maternal warnings about world wars, conflicts, persecutions, and the spreading of the errors of Russia throughout the world have all come to pass. There is no reason to doubt that her remaining predictions for the future will also happen. In the back of many people’s minds is the question of whether this will be the “Fatima year” when further events might occur—and heavenly aid might be supplied.

So much could happen in 2017. The key to survival is fidelity to our Christian principles and confidence in Providence. Indeed, we were brought to the edge of the abyss in the first place because so many abandoned moral principles over the last decades. We have avoided disaster so far, but it would be wrong to think that we will survive the rough roller coaster ride ahead without a return to moral principles.

As seen on catholic365.com

How Hobbes Separated Government From Virtue

How Hobbes Separated Government From Virtue

“Hobbes was a thoroughgoing materialist who saw the world in purely mechanical terms.”

According to the ideology of absolute personal liberty, government exists to foster liberty and to mediate the inevitable conflicts that arise in the exercise of that liberty. The general rule that governs the use of liberty is pretty much “do what you want so long as you don’t hurt anyone.”

This ideology of absolute personal liberty could be traced back to the English political philosopher, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679). Hobbes was a thoroughgoing materialist who saw the world in purely mechanical terms. If he treats of religion in his philosophy it is only to make sure that it is completely under control of government and has no legitimacy apart from government approval. In line with his materialist philosophy his view of human nature is wholly egoistic – that is to say human beings act and can act only for their own private individual interests. As a result “The natural condition of man… is a war of every man against every man.” (Leviathan Ch. 13) We are familiar with this idea in our saying: “It is a dog eat dog world.”

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On this basis, Hobbes affirms that “‘The Right of Nature,’ … is the liberty each man hath to use his own power as he will himself for the preservation … of his own life.” (Ibid. Ch. 14) For Hobbes, this natural right is not even limited by the rights of others.

On the basis of his idea of the state of warfare and the natural right of human liberty, Hobbes argues that, in fact, the only way that human beings can find security is by handing all of their rights into the hands of an absolute sovereign (the Leviathan) who will then rule them all, granting to them whatever “civil rights” he deems appropriate.

While Hobbes’ solution to the problem of the natural state of warfare of every man against every man did not, in the long run, gain acceptance in the West, modern Western political philosophy has been driven by his underlying view of the human problem. Indeed, if we consider the reigning ideology of absolute personal liberty, we can see that it shares the basic Hobbesian view of human nature, but seeks rather to maximize the liberty while minimizing the government mediation between conflicting liberties.

This idea also leads to the primacy of the economic role of government on the idea that conflict between human beings will be lessened in the midst of material prosperity, but exacerbated when competition for scarce material goods is greater.

There is another consequence to this worldview: moral virtue is impossible and can never be any more than a fiction or illusion. Hence the political-economic-social order of a society has nothing to do with virtue, but can only be managed as a machine in which the human beings are the moving parts that are to be harmonized in their functioning so as to produce an efficient economic engine.

What Does Saint Thomas Say About Immigration?

Of course these ideas are not the only ones that shape our society, but their pervasive influence should be quite evident. It should also be clear that Hobbes’ starting point of the natural state of warfare of every man against every man is very misguided to say the least. It treats humanity as a collection of individuals with no natural bonds one to another. It altogether overlooks those most fundamental of bonds, the umbilical cord and the nursing breast, not to mention the indissoluble bond of married love between a man and woman that gives rise to the bond of the umbilical cord. It overlooks the selfless and self-sacrificing love of parents.  Finally, it overlooks the family as the natural cradle of human life.

Certainly the reality of sin in the world often brings a sort of unfortunate “warfare” into the heart of the family, but this is a secondary, not primary reality of human life; Eden came before the Fall and the Fall did not totally destroy the good of nature that was given in Eden; further, the grace of Jesus Christ has entered the world to heal the wounds of sin, to reinforce the bond of marriage, and to make possible the truth of love.

In that light the family is the natural school of moral virtue. What is virtue? It is not a mechanical reality, but the direction of human instinct and energy towards the true, the good, and the beautiful, under the light of faith and reason. In that light, government, rather than managing human beings as cogs in an economic machine, should be protecting family life and fostering the promotion of virtue.

Work without Men

Work without Men

“the problem is not a lack of jobs but a lack of skilled workers”

Now that the elections are over, there is much talk of trade and jobs. Predictably, the highest priorities are being given to negotiating new trade arrangements and tax policies that will bring back jobs to America.

It is true that businesses in America are overtaxed and overregulated. Anything that can be done to alleviate these burdens will be most welcome and stimulate the business climate. Such measures will indeed create jobs and open up opportunities, but they alone will not make America great.

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America faces a grave moral crisis that needs to be addressed. As Charles Murray and so many other scholars have stressed, America is coming apart. A vast underclass has developed that is the result of broken families, shattered communities, a nonexistent work ethic, substance abuse, and godless education. The mantra of “bringing jobs back” is not going to reverse the downward path of a nation without finding ways to rebuild a strong moral foundation.

A False Assumption

America has changed drastically over the years. Millions of skilled workers in the Rust Belt lost their jobs as manufacturing moved offshore, new technologies and other factors. However, much of the narrative now circulating assumes that bringing the factories back will just allow these same workers to return to manufacturing jobs, support their families, and everyone will live happily ever after.

Such an assumption fails to consider that Americans have changed over the decades. Many no longer have stable families. Likewise, technology has changed much of manufacturing. Today’s factory jobs take more sophisticated skills and work habits. If such considerations are not addressed, little improvement can be expected.

Dire Need for Manufacturing Workers in America

In fact, many believe there is a huge pool of skilled workers just waiting to get back to the assembly lines. The actual truth is that American manufacturers are frantically looking for skilled labor. They simply are not out there.

According to Labor Department statistics, the number of open manufacturing jobs has continually risen since 2009. The total now stands at the highest level in 15 years.

What Does Saint Thomas Say About Immigration?

According to an analysis by the Manufacturing Institute, nearly two million U.S. manufacturing jobs will remain vacant over the next decade if current trends continue. The crisis is aggravated by growing numbers of retiring baby boomers while the younger generations are not stepping up to the plate.

A Talent Gap

The reason for the lack of workers is a great talent gap between what is needed and what is available. One major problem facing manufacturers is that far too many young people go off to college without an idea of what they are going to do with their lives. They run after the glamor of going to the university and leave college with a degree they cannot use and debt they cannot repay. The result is a dearth of young people to take manufacturing jobs despite attractive wages and waiting positions.

Thus, the problem is not a lack of jobs but a lack of skilled workers. In fact, one result labor study found that the average U.S. manufacturer is losing as much as 11 percent of its annual earnings due to a talent shortage. Another survey concluded that almost half of executives would consider reshoring manufacturing operations back to U.S. yet are also concerned about the need for skilled workers.

Without getting young Americans back into manufacturing, bringing jobs back will only make this problem worse.

Training Unemployed Workers

Many people point to the huge pool of unemployed and underemployed workers and claim that if given training and opportunities, they will take the new jobs to support their families and pursue the American Dream.

Once again, the perception does not correspond fully to the reality. It assumes too much. There are indeed many Americans who are out of the workforce to the point that they are not even looking for employment. Is it just a matter of coaxing them back?

This is not the conclusion of Nicholas Eberstadt in his masterful study, Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis. The book documents a disturbing fact that “an invisible army” of ten million idle American men of prime working age, some ten percent of the male workforce, now “spend absolutely no time at a job.” Most don’t want to change their nonemployed status.

A Grave Crisis

Eberstadt correctly asserts that this great pool of idle Americans represents not only a social crisis but above all a grave moral crisis. While a small sector of these nonworking men are in training or pursuing education, the majority represent a radical change of mentality away from the work ethic that made America great. A culture once marked by industriousness and hard work is being replaced with a system that “encourages sloth, idleness, and vices.”

In other words, many of these men do not want to play the role of breadwinners. They do not want opportunities or training. They want to remain the way they are. Many are unmarried, uneducated and have a criminal background. Surprisingly, most of these nonworkers live reasonably comfortable lives thanks to the support of wives, girlfriends, aging parents, or government welfare programs.

Eberstadt shows how many of these men spend their time engaging in such activities as gambling, substance abuse, socializing, or an average five-hours-a-day movie-watching habit. They do not get involved in most civic or community activities. Filling their days with gadgets and idle pastimes, America is seeing what Eberstadt labels the “infantilization” of these men.

When the jobs come back, don’t expect to see these men in line for jobs or job training, no matter how enticing the offers may be.

Shifting Focus

And that is why the focus must be expanded from just the jobs and infrastructure projects that are now all the rage. Unless the new administration concentrates on invigorating the moral fiber of the country, strengthening marriage and the family and limiting the power of the state, America will not recover from its present woes.

Indeed, when the jobs come back, there is the risk that no one will show up.

As seen on americanthinker.com

Did God Give America a Great Reprieve?

Did God Give America a Great Reprieve?To those Americans concerned about the moral state of the nation, the immediate reaction to the November 8 elections was one of enormous relief. It was as if a colossal amount of pressure was suddenly released. There was the thrill of something entirely unexpected. People were overjoyed beyond words.

Adding to the intense drama, there was the sensation that a great danger was taken from our path. We had averted a dead-end situation for which there were no human solutions. We were somehow saved from a terrible calamity that had seemed so imminent.

Two main elements contributed to this perception of inevitable disaster. The first was that so much was at stake—the Supreme Court, anti-abortion laws, socialist big government programs, massive regulations and even the specter of persecution for the Faith. The candidate that represented all these things enjoyed all the prestige of the media and the favor of the pollsters. The foreboding of a sinister outcome could not have been greater.

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The second element was the lack of a moral solution proportional to the level of the crisis. Moral conservatives were faced with a candidate that was universally acknowledged as flawed and many considered as merely the lesser of two evils. This was an election of desperation not enthusiasm because the alternative was just too awful to fathom. Significant sectors of the electorate, however, did not feel they could unite around a candidate that did not share many of their values.

And then it happened. A startled electorate watched the results come in and saw the numbers slowly shift in their favor with a sweep of the White House, both houses of Congress, and a record number of state houses.

Analysts are still scrambling to explain the unexpected results of the elections. They point to abstract categories like the blue-collar vote, the white vote or the Catholic vote. For them, all elections are number games and media shows. They believe the outcome depends on who plays the game best and spends the most.

There was, however, another factor outside the game that should not be underestimated. In the face of an impending disaster, many Americans did something that they do not often do in political situations like these. They prayed.

Prayer is not something that can be measured by polls or political observers. And since it cannot be quantified, those without faith treat them as something quaint and childish hardly worthy of consideration. But in an election where all the rules of the game were broken, there is no reason to rule out the influence of prayer. The fact is many Americans did pray in the weeks and days leading up to that fateful November day when the course of the nation was decided.

Not only did they pray, but it appears they prayed hard. All across America, there were prayer vigils, rosaries, novenas and benediction services that were mentioned on social media or announced in church bulletins. Some fasted for the nation. Thousands gathered and prayed in the public square. Others simply poured out their souls to God in almost biblical manner asking for His aid in their moments of affliction. And as is common with such prayers, there was an implicit promise that if we were delivered from this trial, we would turn back to God.

Of course, to suggest that this prayer might have had something to do with the final results of an election is anathema. None dare whisper it for it is so politically incorrect.

But in this election that broke all the rules, why not break one more rule and shout it about? The fact is countless Americans who woke up on the morning of November 9 after the election sensed their prayers had been answered beyond all expectations. They sensed unexplainable Christian joy and hope in seeing a calamity had been averted. They were convinced in the depths of their souls that God had heard their prayers. They were energized by the results, and are determined to turn back to God.

This is not to say that God endorsed the winning candidate (he lost the popular vote) only that He heard the cries of those who were afflicted and found a way to deliver them from a catastrophic future. The victory may have been due much more to those who called it forth with their prayers than the efforts of its flawed victor.

God also did not grant total victory. However, many feel He has given America a great reprieve, a second chance, to get it right with Him.

If we have been given this reprieve, then we should use it to turn back to God. We should keep our part of the bargain and turn back to Him and His law. There is no time to be complacent or delve into purely economic solutions that sidestep the moral crisis in America. The fervent prayers must continue. Above all, we must also make sure our elected officials follow through on their promises of a platform that puts God first and thus will truly make America great.

Indeed, we have a little time, a short reprieve. We would do well to use this time wisely. This election has shown what can be done. If we uphold God’s law, we can count on Him to break all the rules.


Cobbler Shop Economics

cobblersI had just bought a pair of shoes at a large shoe outlet and within six months the heels were completely worn down. I lost the receipt and probably would have had a little trouble getting a new pair. So I decided to visit the local cobbler with the shoes and a piece of leather carry-on luggage with a broken latch. I only expected him to fix my things but I also came out with a lesson in economy.

The cobbler shop is just off the main street in a small Pennsylvania town nearby. It is an unassuming building where you can walk in from the sidewalk and the bells on the doors announce your arrival. The cobbler lives in semi-retirement upstairs. He is open on afternoons to any who need his services and to all his friends who just want to come around and talk.

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Upon entering, the first thing you see is a counter with an old-fashioned cash register and all sorts of leather products with an order known only to the cobbler himself. There is something warm and familiar about the whole scene, which is permeated by the smell of leather. On one side there are some shelves where you can buy a strange array of unclaimed items. Visible in the back is the workshop and stitching machines where the actual cobbling is done.

cobblerThe cobbler is an older gentleman with a round face who greets me with ease. We exchange some small talk and then enter into the business at hand. I present my shoes and he looks at them and delivers his diagnosis.

“Worn heels, I guess I could put a pair on for you,” he says. He takes out a small square of paper and writes my phone number on it, makes a hole in the paper and threads one of the shoe laces through it. He gives me no receipt to show that he has my shoes. I must trust him, and I do.

He looks at my carry-on with the broken latch. That proves a bit more difficult. He opens up a little cabinet and pulls out some latches. None of them will work. And so he ponders the situation for a while looking at it this way and that.

“Snaps,” he says pensively. “I could put on some snaps.” He shows me how he would attach them to the bag to make it easy to open. We discuss the matter and come to an agreement. I must return some time next week.

Leaving the cobbler shop, I thought a bit about what had just happened not from the point of view of foot ware but from the perspective of the economic studies I have long pursued.

Here was an example of economy without that frenetic intemperance that you find in so many parts of modern markets. There was nothing of that frenzied sense of immediacy where you must have everything right away, regardless of the consequence. I did not sense that machine-like treatment that makes so much of modern economy cold and impersonal, fast and frantic.

Instead, my visit had that human element that made the experience warm and personal. I was a valued customer not a number. He became my cobbler. I appreciated the trust that was the basis of our transaction, and which is so essential for any free market. Above all, there was a notion of honor. You could feel the sense of craftsmanship, quality and pride in his work. He would stand behind his work as he has for decades. He does not need to advertise since he lives off his good reputation.

Some might object that the cobbler is a figure from the past that has no role in modern economy. Today’s markets with their cheap goods have eliminated the need for such professions. When something breaks, just buy another one. There is no demand for cobblers anymore.

And yet I would disagree. At least in my area, people are looking for them. The old cobblers are dying off in the region and the unemployed new generations (anxious perhaps for more exciting careers) no longer want to commit to such a profession. I was told that my cobbler laments the fact that he can find no one to take his place in the face of obvious demand.

I am not suggesting that everyone should run their business like my cobbler. However, I am suggesting that we should return to an order where trust, honor and temperance can once again prevail.

In this sense, I cannot help but think of the economic good my cobbler has done by plying his trade. Without the cobbler, I would have been forced to buy another cheap seventy-dollar pair of shoes made in India and an expensive carry-on leather portfolio from who knows where. Instead, I spent some twenty dollars for the repairs…and the human experience. The whole affair had a calming effect upon me and the economy since it tempers that frenetic desire of buying without restraint or reflection that sooner or later leads to frenzied and failed markets.

That is what I learned from a visit to my cobbler and my accidental lesson in economy. If Subscription13there were more cobblers and fewer derivative traders, I believe the world would be a calmer and richer place.


Returning to the Wellspring

Returning to the WellspringAs the stage is set for a great storm, our common peril forces us to look for a vision of life that will serve to unify the nation. We believe this vision will not be inspired by economic reforms, financial policies, or government programs. The question remains as to where we must go to find the ideas that will inspire our return to order.

In our times of crisis, we would do well to repair to the wellspring of our Christian culture in the hope of rediscovering those spiritual values that gave us birth. We should look beyond our materialistic vision and turn to what Johan Huizinga calls “more and higher values than the mere gratification of want and the desire for power. These values lie in the domain of the spiritual, the intellectual, the moral, and the aesthetic.”[1]

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In this spiritual quest, we must avoid the idealized inventions of great philosophers or the complex schemes of sociologists. We must reject the rigid ideologies of modern thinkers who have constructed ideal systems without any link to reality, much to the detriment of mankind. We must embrace instead those ideals, principles, and values that have always served to inspire and unify men. They are ideals that are connected to reality and manifest themselves in the diverse customs, traditions, and ways of life of a people.

Horizontal Vision of Society

By returning to the source of our values, we engage in a real search for meaning and unity. It is not the scattered modern vision of things that so characterizes our age of individualism. To employ a metaphor, we might say that the present socio-economic model resembles a horizontal line drawn on a piece of paper where the line scatters our attention with no single point of focus. This line extends outward; it is flat with no hierarchy of interests.

Such a model corresponds to a horizontal vision of society. It is an image of a model that favors frenetic intemperance, expanding markets, and gigantist networks obsessed with outward progress and the horizontal expansion of finance or empire without any central focus. Lawrence Friedman writes that “urban, industrial, mass-media society” is a “horizontal society” full of superficial links among equals.[2]

A Vertical Vision

Our return to the wellspring calls for a vertical perspective. It supposes a vertical vision of the universe where things are viewed through another prism. To extend our metaphor, we can liken the model we seek to a vertical line drawn on paper. This line draws our attention towards a single point as it progresses upward, much like the vertical lines of a church bell tower draw our gaze upward towards the cross at the top.

This vertical vision invites us to elevate our minds with singular purpose to transcendent values and ultimately to God. R. H. Tawney describes this vision as a “theory of a hierarchy of values, embracing all human interests and activities in a system of which the apex is religion” as opposed to the modern “conception of separate and parallel compartments, between which a due balance should be maintained, but which have no vital connection with each other.”[3]

This vision confers a great unity of purpose upon a society. This unity, which might also be ours, could be seen in Christendom. “There have been periods in European history in which more rapid progress has been made in some directions, and in which there has been a greater variety of individual genius,” writes R. W. Southern about the Middle Ages, “but there has never been a period which has displayed so great a variety of achievement in the service of a single aim.”[4]

The Good, True, and Beautiful

The inspiration of this vision is found inside man himself. It corresponds to the most fundamental desires of the human heart. It comes from our constant search for all that is good, true, and beautiful. This impulse is something that occurs naturally in us and sets in motion powerful movements inside our souls that call us to sacrifice.

Aristotle speaks of what he calls to kalon, that is, our passionate concern for all that is elevated, dignified, and noble. It was something he recognized as universally present in the spiritual core of each human being. These highest aspirations of rational and free beings are “capable of dedication, devotion, and even sacrifice for the sake of causes perceived as just and as thereby partaking of transcendent or eternal value.”[5]

Likewise, Saint Paul in Holy Scriptures calls upon us to look to these same ideals when he says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”(Phil. 4:8).[6]

When men seek after these high standards of perfection, beauty, or excellence, it gives rise to a vision of life that inspires civilizations. We need only look to our Christian roots as a confirmation of their efficacy. History gives ample testimony to the selfless acts of saints, heroes, and martyrs who put Christian ideals before all else. Their influence permeated the culture, established a rule of honor, and gave birth to a whole civilization.

However, there is more.

“Omne Delectamentum in se Habentem”

When we search for that which is most elevated, dignified, and noble, we inevitably encounter the supernatural and divine, which is at the pinnacle of all beauty and the true wellspring of Christian civilization. Omne delectamentum in se habentem, says the liturgy for Benediction. We might say of this vision that it has “within it all sweetness.”

Subscription8.1By embracing the supernatural, we encounter God and His Divine grace, which communicates supernatural life to our souls and makes our ideals shine brighter. Grace perfects nature and opens up new possibilities for the realization of our ideals beyond that of the merely human. While we cannot quantify the action of grace in history, we can observe those selfless acts of virtue that brought about amazing transformations in society.  We see, for example, the fruits of grace in the noble, dignified, and elevated acts of those who bear suffering with joy and dignity, experience triumph with humility, and treat others with veneration and respect as brothers. We can observe the effects of grace, which enlightens reason, and, guided by the light of the Faith and an infallible Magisterium, creates the ideal cultural conditions for an organic society.

By returning to the wellspring of our Christian civilization, we avail ourselves of this Divine assistance and thus our efforts become proportional to the challenges from the impending storm.

*          *          *

In short, as increasing numbers abandon the failing materialist culture that adopted the common, useful, and ordinary as its “unheroic” standard, we must repair to this Christian wellspring to regenerate our culture. It is this search for meaning and unity that we will now explore. From this source, we will see its fruits reflected in the hearth and home, the public square, the marketplace, and the sanctuary.

The text above was taken from Chapter 46 of the book, Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society—Where We’ve Been, How We Go Here, and Where We Need to Go.


[1] Johan H. Huizinga, In the Shadow of Tomorrow (New York: W. W. Norton, 1936), 40-41.

[2] Friedman, Horizontal Society, 60.

[3] Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, 8.

[4] R. W. Southern, Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages (London: Penguin Books, 1970), 43.

[5] Thomas L. Pangle, Leo Strauss: An Introduction to His Thought and Intellectual Legacy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), 93.

[6] North American Bible Revised Edition.

The Manliness of the Prodigal Son

The Manliness of the Prodigal Son

“one of the most memorable and moving of all Our Lord Jesus Christ’s parables.”

The parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most memorable and moving of all Our Lord Jesus Christ’s parables. Many who cannot name all Ten Commandments can nevertheless give a rough outline of the story. It has been widely represented in Christian art since the Middle Ages, and even today is often referenced in literature and film.

Its divine themes—grievous sin, terrible suffering, true repentance, and unconditional forgiveness—are like the finger of God touching the very heart of the human condition. No matter how often we see others follow the same path of perdition as the Prodigal Son, our pride fools us into thinking that our lives will end differently. No matter how much we are warned, we fall into sin. No matter how much we sin, we repent only when we encounter suffering. And no matter how virtuous we think we are, we are all Prodigal Sons in need of forgiveness from an all-merciful Father. These themes touch Americans very deeply.

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On the one hand, we are a nation that maintains a good and healthy regard for justice, especially towards unrepentant evildoers. We cheer the policeman who arrests the rogue criminal and find satisfaction in his just reward of a long jail sentence. We still support, by a large majority, the death penalty for our very worst criminals. We instinctively fight back against Islamic terrorism and—to the horror of liberals everywhere—cheer when unarmed American civilians beat unconscious would-be terrorists on a French train, or when an American Navy warship blows Somali pirates out of the water.

But something has changed in the American soul over the last few generations. Although we still have a love of justice, we increasingly refuse to take responsibility for our actions. We shirk our duties and obligations. We have the tendency to blame everyone and everything except ourselves for our faults and failings. And worst of all, we feel no shame for assigning blame and even cheer those who do so.

This mentality dominates in so many parts of our culture. Our legal system is overwhelmed with frivolous lawsuits from people who often take advantage of their own mistakes to extort money from others. Husbands and wives often blame each other for their marital disputes and prefer divorce to working through difficulties. Hollywood glamorizes characters that live for themselves and shirk responsibility, and even portray idealistic and self-sacrificing people as stupid or naïve.

We teach this mentality to our youth. When “helicopter parents” berate their children’s teachers for daring to give them a less-than-stellar grade, or when they confront a referee who made an unfavorable call in a sports game—regular occurrences today—those children learn that actions have no consequences. When able-bodied fathers sign up for food stamps rather than earn an honest living, or when career women abort their unborn children so they can continue to climb the corporate ladder, children learn that irresponsibility pays off.

A generation of Americans has grown up immersed in this ethic of irresponsibility. Unfortunately, there is no easy way out. Without a widespread conversion, a culture of irresponsibility naturally falls into a death spiral. Selfish, irresponsible people corrode their own culture, economy, and family structure, which leads to further selfishness, finger-pointing, and irresponsibility.

That brings us back to the Prodigal Son. In His infinite Wisdom, Our Lord Jesus Christ’s parables were given as supreme examples for all times and all peoples. Indeed, the parable of the Prodigal Son has many striking similarities with the specific situation in which America finds herself, and provides a clear path to repentance and conversion if we are willing to take it.

The Manliness of the Prodigal Son

“The Prodigal Son soon ran out of money and was reduced to herding swine.”

The Prodigal Son certainly didn’t leave his father’s house thinking he might end up herding swine. Although he walked away from immense wealth and happiness, he probably thought that he could enjoy the pleasures of the world while avoiding the pitfalls that befell other, less “enlightened” young men. His father, no doubt, warned him of the dangers of the world, but even he was unable to sway his son’s determination.

For a little while at least, he spent his father’s inheritance enjoying all the delights the world had to offer. Food, drink, and prostitutes were his new idols. Secure with his inheritance and new “friends,” he likely scoffed at his father’s paternal advice. When he talked about his father—if he did at all—he may have even mocked his former life at home.

In spite of all his father’s paternal advice and love, it was only through suffering that the Prodigal Son began to seriously consider the folly of his life. A great famine came upon the land, making life expensive. The Prodigal Son soon ran out of money and was reduced to herding swine. Worse than any physical suffering must have been his public humiliation. His new master may have known him before the famine struck, saw him frequent the local taverns, and stagger back drunk to his comfortable lodgings. If so, he probably didn’t let him forget it, as he went about his daily tasks taking care of his master’s pigs.

The Manliness of the Prodigal Son

“He may have been tempted to wallow in self-pity.”

The Prodigal Son likely had many legitimate grievances against others for his predicament. The famine that exposed his bad decisions was not his fault. Our Lord did not give a cause, but it could very well have been a man-made disaster. Perhaps the “ruling class” of that country, like the Prodigal Son himself, made bad decisions, which destroyed the local economy. There might have been a war that exhausted the whole country and crippled agriculture. As a rich man in a foreign country, he was certainly a target for thieves and hucksters.

As he sat watching the swine devour the husks that he so ardently wished to eat, many ideas must have flashed through his mind. He may have been tempted to wallow in self-pity. He could have spent his days, telling anyone willing to listen, all the gory details of how “they” caused his misfortune.

This is the effeminate response to a crisis. Effeminate men are unable to do the two things that define manliness: take responsibility for their actions and to do one’s duty regardless of the difficulty. They blame others for their own faults, create intricate justifications for their irresponsibility, and above all criticize men who don’t make excuses (behind their backs, of course).

The Manliness of the Prodigal Son

“It took courage to say the words “I have sinned” and to ask for forgiveness.”

The Prodigal Son, on the contrary, reacted to his predicament with true manliness. It took courage to confront his failings directly, to say the words “I have sinned” and to ask for forgiveness. To be sure, there certainly were factors outside his control that contributed to his misfortunes, but he recognized that he alone bore ultimate responsibility. It took manly heroism to humiliate himself in front of his father, older brother and their whole household after he had so proudly defied them and suffered the consequences.

This timeless parable has many lessons for us Americans today. Our culture, economy, and society are in crisis. As John Horvat points out in his book, Return to Order, we are spending our inheritance like passengers on a great cruise ship without any consideration for tomorrow. While we are enjoying ourselves, our government is paralyzed, our economy is plunging full speed into bankruptcy, and the traditional family is disfigured almost beyond recognition. A modern-day famine in the form of an economic crash would plunge the whole world into chaos.

Like the Prodigal Son, we have a choice. We can listen to the many voices of irresponsibility coming from both the left and the right. They place the blame exclusively on others, be it “Wall Street”, the Chinese, or the “1%.” These outside forces, to be sure, have indeed played a role in undermining our economy. But to place the blame entirely on them is akin to a man who blames a casino for taking his money. The casino certainly was dishonest in its dealings with him, but no matter how one may spin it, the blame for his loss lies entirely in his disordered tendencies and vices.

We must reject this effeminate response and imitate the manly example of the Prodigal Son. Like him, we must look inward very deeply and ask ourselves if our vices, and not some faceless external enemy, are the root cause of our predicament. How much do I participate in the “frenetic intemperance” of our modern economy? Have I participated in the cruise ship mentality, spending as if there were no tomorrow? Do I grieve for our beloved nation, or do I shrug my shoulders at her destruction as if it were the bankruptcy of a Fortune 500 company (a pity to be sure, but no real loss)?

Do I live according to the Rule of Money, which elevates all that is vulgar, egalitarian, and materialistic, or the Rule of Honor, which admires the sublime, heroic, and noble? Do I embrace the restraining influence of Christian morality in economy, with its natural checks and balances rooted in the Ten Commandments, or do I participate in the modern mania for destruction of every barrier and restraint? If so, am I willing to turn away from this path and return to my Father’s house, or do I care only for myself and for today, with no regard for tomorrow?

Our society and economy will return to order only after we take responsibility for our actions and do our duty to God and country, no matter how difficult. The father of the Prodigal Son was willing and ready to receive him at any moment, but he was powerless to help his son until the day when he stopped blaming others, admitted his guilt, repented of his sins and returned to his father’s house. But no matter how sinful he had been, the father was willing to forgive and forget in an instant all the evil his son had done, and to even rejoice in his return. Our nation is that Prodigal Son. May we respond to God’s grace and muster the courage necessary to imitate his manliness and return to the house of our most loving Eternal Father.


When Institutions Decay

7f441559a42Niall Ferguson’s The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die is intriguing since the title reflects what should be an obvious connection: Social institutions do affect economies.

The noted British historian’s latest book is a compelling demonstration of his thesis. He lays out all the symptoms caused by decaying institutions: slowing growth, crushing debts, aging populations, and an uncivil society. It is clearly a degeneration, and even a great degeneration.

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We can only admire Ferguson in his quest is to go beyond media hype and find out what really went wrong in the West. He rightly claims that “until we understand the true nature of our degeneration, we will be wasting our time, applying quack remedies to mere symptoms.”

In this short essay, Ferguson lists the four principal institutions which he affirms are in decline: representative government, the free market, the rule of law and civil society. The author masterfully shows how each one is suffering in our days. The frightening pileup of debts is threatening to burden those that come after us threatening what Edmund Burke called the “partnership” between the generations which he claims is so essential for representative government to work well. The rule of law is fast becoming the rule of lawyers. The free market is burdened under the scourge of excessive regulation. People simply aren’t getting involved in voluntary associations today diminishing the social capital that keeps free markets free.

These are themes that have long been discussed by scholars over the decades. Ferguson provides urgency and context to our present decline. He provides insight and excellent observations that should serve as a warning long overdue. His style is clear, engaging and at times witty.

Subscription12And yet, in his search for answers, we are left wondering if the author has dug deep enough.

The work suffers from its limitations as an essay. The 152-page text is taken from his 2012 BBC Radio 4 “The Reith Lectures” which limits the depth of his analysis since the book’s tone is light and slightly entertaining. There is no time to develop in depth those pressing questions that might be found in a more imposing tome with full bibliography and index.

However, there are other questions that might be raised. We are told how the institutions decayed but not why they decayed. Institutions simply don’t self-decay. We should be able to trace this decay to a decadence in men. There is little in the book to indicate what forces were at work in the depths of men’s souls that caused them to abandon these essential pillars. We are also given little clue as to what moral force might be employed to regenerate that which has degenerated.

The problem stems from the fact that Ferguson’s worldview is that of the Scottish Enlightenment when he felt the four pillars now in decline had reached their harmonious apogee. He thus works inside a rationalist and secular framework. As an historian, Ferguson must have observed that religious and moral institutions have always served as the most effective means to bring about a regeneration of society. Indeed, the very four pillars he lists as decaying were largely medieval institutions that developed under the tutelage of the Church. Yet he does not make the leap to suggest that a moral or religious regeneration is possible or even desirable. Such an omission is lamentable.Subscription5.2

Despite this omission, the book does have great value in making a link not often made. Economists have so entered into the abstract world of formulae and numbers that simply ignore such social considerations. Historians tend to concentrate on events and dates. Not often do we see those who admit that social institutions do affect economy. Economy need the support of social institutions to thrive. We ignore to our detriment this central fact so well demonstrated in The Great Degeneration.


A review of The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die by Niall Ferguson, Allen Lane, London, 2012.