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Today’s Thoughts

January 22, 2010

Lately I’ve been studying economics and quantum mechanics, in particular quantum electro-dynamics (QED).  I was thinking about writing an entry on the basics of QED and how light travels across a room, bends through a lense, or bounces off a mirror.  I think you’d all find it interesting.  It’s very very strange.  Light does not behave how you think it does.  Light is a strange beast.

It’s too late to write up an entry on that tonight though.   But I will share the ending lines from John Maynard Keynes’  The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood.  Indeed the world is ruled by little else.  Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves to some defunct economist.  Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.  I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.  Not, indeed, immediately, but after a certain interval; for in the field of economic and political philosophy there are not many who are influenced by new theories after they are twenty-five or thirty years of age, so that the ideas which civil servants and politicians and even agitators apply to current events are not likely to be the newest.  But, soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.

I don’t agree with Keynes on this point.  He’s too trusting in politicians, government, and humanity in general.  To him, most all “wrongs” are due to stupidity and incorrect economic ideas.  He fears stupidity – I fear the Fed and Goldman Sachs.  With the bailouts, the CDS market, and filibusters on pretty much any meaningful reform, I’m not going to discount the big corporations and their lobbying interests to do anything to keep their profits.   Then again, who am I to know someone else’s motives?  From what I can tell, as far as trusting government, 1 being no trust, 10 being complete trust, Keynes seems to be a 7 or 8.  I’d be a 3 or possibly 4.  I think the economy is too big and complicated to plan.  Their intervention almost always just gets in the way.

I have very little trust in government.  The power attracts a certain type of person, and their campaigns are so expensive, by the time they get in office they owe so many favors they lose whatever values they may have had prior to running for office.  In the big picture, you can’t deny that powerful people are out there trying to build empires.  That’s all our history has ever been.  Adler’s inferiority complex.  Their lives don’t mean anything unless they have a powerful influence controlling the lives and minds of those in their society.

I see it everywhere I go.  It’s not just Washington.  In my hometown’s McDonalds the owner has put up a “philosophy” wall.  His face plastered there for all to see, and he shares his personal quotes of economic thrift, prudence, and business acumen to all the patrons.  Sip away on your chocolate shake, swivel your chair side to side, and contemplate lines like, “Those who are patient enable wisdom to find them.”

But even though I don’t agree with everything I’m reading, I am glad I’ve finally found some time to read Paul Samuelson’s economics textbook, which is one of the best economics textbooks from the Keynesian perspective.   Maybe he’ll convince me on some of government’s roles in the economy, but I doubt it.  I’m far more leaning to the free market and the Austrian school.  I sympathize with social safety nets, and income distribution through taxation, and all societal changes which might well never happen without planning, but once a person tastes a free lunch, it’s over.  Once big funds are collected, the vultures come in to siphon off all they can.  And before long, everyone is wanting everyone else’s stuff and all the good intentions just turn out to be a big mess.

I believe in universal college education.  I’ll pay for kids to go to school.  I’ll pay for their medical bills as well.  If you don’t have the money to have a surgery done, or to fix a cavity in your mouth, I don’t mind that.  I hate seeing kids struggle to make it through school and rejecting a person who needs treatment just because they lack money or insurance is inhumane.  That says their life is worth less than the price of their treatment.

But there’s an opportunity cost to everything, and people have to realize that providing a government service to one person, is taking away from someone else.  Those tax revenues used to fund these programs is money the citizens could’ve spent on what THEY wanted.  As Fredrick Hayek once said, “Collectivism is slavery.”  If we have too many taxes, and too many programs, we’re seceding our freedom to the politicians, who then decide where our money goes, instead of the free market, which represents us spending our money on what we want.

It’s complicated, I know.  Without love I don’t think we’re ever going to move anywhere.  But love aside, the question of private property is a difficult issue.  When I build up a business, work 12 hours a day for years, and finally start to succeed and then make a lot more money than someone else, who’s to blame here?  I end up with a lot, and someone else has a little.  Who deserves what, based on the labor they do?  Answer that question.

What I do know is this – men hate work.  They’ll do anything and everything to avoid it.  They’ll argue and fight for hours over something that would’ve only taken them 30 minutes to do themselves.  If not strictly enforced, they’ll come into work late, slack off the first hour, goofing off on their computer.  Then they’ll get up and chat with co-workers, or goof off on their cell phones, texting their girlfriends and buddies.  After so long they’ll finally start to feel guilt and put in an hour or so of work.  Then they’ll raise their arms, yawn, and say to themselves, “Well, lunch time’s coming up.  What will I eat?”  They’ll slack off the last 30 minutes before lunch.  Then another hour goes to lunch.  They’ll slack for an hour after they get back, letting the food “settle.”  They browse around on various news sites.  Then they might put in a little more work, then slack off the rest of the day.

Adam Smith showed us that men won’t do anything without incentive.  Salaried employees are that way.  If they get the same amount of money whether they work hard or not, they won’t work hard.  They more often than not could care less about the business, or their employer — outside of losing their job completely that is, and they only care about that if it’d be difficult for them to find another job.

I know this cycle.  I’ve seen it everywhere I’ve ever worked and even in business projects of my own.  I’m guilty of it myself when I’ve worked with others.  We procrastinate when we don’t want to do something, and most people don’t want to work.  Menial jobs are rote, boring, and pointless in the big scheme of things, and the more you think on it the more depressed you’ll be.  That’s why everyone wants to be the manager.  At least then you get the thrill of ordering people around, feeling like the big shot, and not getting stuck with the boring repetitive tasks — you assign those to your secretary!  To top it all off, you get paid more.

The rich and powerful are almost always the most intelligent of that society, and that’s not just a coincidence.  If they’re not, they won’t be rich for long for a fool and his money are soon parted.  This intelligence is typically not used to help the masses, but to escape the harshness of this reality because there’s no degree to which people hate toil and being separated from their desires.   Even Keynes himself, the beloved genius economist, once wrote this about economics, “I think I am rather good at it.  I want to manage a railway or organize a Trust or at least swindle the investing public.”   He tells us to trust the government, as long as they’re listening to his council I suppose.  And why would he want to swindle the public?  If I recall correctly he was quite the investor and then lived an idle life himself.  He supported the Royal Opera House, collected the personal papers and books of Issac Newton, and collected fine arts to ornament his home.  And could you ever earn that kind of money working a normal job?

The ones who speak out against the corruption are those who have no incentive to lie, such as  salaried academics.  I think a lot of their honesty stems from the fact that they have no reason to lie to you.   But skilled economists can be bought, ready to show all sorts of charts and graphs intended to deceive all but the most educated.  They’re on the news every day.  Those who do see through it and speak out will then be ignored and not given any mainstream media attention, or ridiculed and marginalized.

I find something particularly interesting.  People think the “eye of the tiger” (to use the term from the Rocky movies!) comes from a strong desire to accomplish something.   On the positive side of things you can say that men continually strive to better their world.  However, you can just as easily see it from the negative side of things – they’re unsatisfied with where they find themselves, and want a new life.  What else is a goal, other than this?   We all want a better life – how you choose to see that particular truth emotionally is your choice.  We are in a continual flight from reality.  A continual struggle to change a world we don’t like, into one we find more suitable.

Whether you hate life and just say, “Screw it”, or find beauty in the small things life has to offer which are free, or find happiness in a lover, or strive to reform the your world and make it “big” – all of these are simply different psychological reactions to the same truth of life — life is difficult and not what we intended.   So, what are you going to do about it?  From a perspective of happiness I don’t find any of these reactions really all that much different.  They’re all rooted in the same base cause and are very human.

In the end we all want a better life, but get tired of working so hard for it.  Some just give up, some settle for little, some turn to the imagination, while others find theft a viable option.  It’s so much easier to take from someone else.  Like the old tale of the hen and the pigs (I think it was).  Nobody would help her make the bread, but everyone wanted to eat the bread when it was done.   And the “taking” goes both ways.  The poor and middle class are always trying to take from the rich through taxation, and the rich are always trying to take from everyone through cheap labor, swindling through investment and financial industry, and lobbying Congress for price floors and monopolistic legislation.   And who deserves what the society produces?  It’s a gray area, and everyone seems to feel they deserve more than what they currently get, and that war wages on day after day.

Bankers run their companies into the ground but still feel they deserve huge bonuses.   They’re under-compensated!  The middle class feels they work too hard.  They only have 3 cars in the drive-way, and a big flat screen TV which delivers every sort of movie imaginable right into their living room, and a swimming pool out back — but they don’t make enough!  They want comprehensive healthcare, and the rich should pay for it!  And so class warfare ensues, everyone feeling themselves the victim, and trying to get everything they can.

We speak of loving one another, but the love seems to only extend to those in a situation similar to our own.  And when we fight for social reform, isn’t it funny how we’re almost always the benefactors of the changes we fight for?

To trust government denies most of history.  Go back to the first tribal war lords.  All the fun jobs they kept for themselves, and all the toilsome jobs, they forced the weaker members to do.  Later we had monarchs and aristocrats.  The monarchs claimed a divine right, and descent from the Gods.  Maybe in a sense this was to unite the people, but people can be united without having to pay tribute, high taxation, and construction of palaces at the expense of starving and impoverishing their subjects.  This all stems from human greed.  And what is the origin of greed?  To escape the toils of this world!

It’s like the old curse from the book of Genesis in the Bible.  Men fell out of favor with God, and from then on would have to derive their living from the sweat of their brow.  As they multiplied over the Earth, they learned they could earn their living from the sweat of someone else’s brow!  And hence began the world of theft, wars, and manipulation of the mind!  That  curse is what is behind this world’s problems, and when God curses something, it’s no joke.

And you’d think the religious priests, who are supposed to teach these lessons, would be different, but no.  The Catholic church was no better.  Popes continually strove for empire and expansion.  They wanted more churches in every town, and collection of tithes, offerings, and other fees, over which a portion was sent to the Vatican in Rome.  Even modern day TV preachers, what do they tell their congregation?  They say the key to prosperity and wealth is to send gifts and offerings to their ministry, and then God will open a supernatural fountain of blessing over their life, giving them an edge over their fellow man.  They’ll have “favor” with their employers, and in business.

Greed has so many faces.  It’s everywhere.  Aristocrats became the land owners, who simply by “owning” great quantities of land felt entitled to tribute of all sorts.  They lived idle lives sitting in the king’s court, while their serfs labored away for them.  Today, those in the financial world, the big corporations, and even a great deal of the environmental movement… There’s always someone after your money and the things you produce.

There has to be checks and balances.  Checks checks and more checks!  Someone will ALWAYS scheme their way out of labor.  ALWAYS.  You need pure transparency in government, and real journalists who both know what they’re talking about, and actually report things they dig up, not just what the White House feeds them.  Instead, most of them just polarize a left/right paradigm, resort to name calling, and read us the official story.  In the end it seems they work in the interests of the corporations, and rarely truly inform the public.

This may all sound very pessimistic, but really I’m just being realistic.  It’s an empirical observation.  I believe in humanity.  I think we can do great things, and together there’s not anything we can’t do.  But, we’ll have to recognize these things, and see what’s really going on.

I long for a day when there’s more respect in the world of money and the economy.  But honestly, nobody has came up with an system which fixes these problems.  With big government you run into graft and vultures.  With small government, the powerful prey on the weak.  Our fight is with ourselves, and I think we’re all guilty for where the world is today.   A while back I had a talk with my father about these issues, and he seems to feel it’s a moral issue.  I think he’s right.  I don’t know if love would fix everything, but it’d certainly make things better.

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