Golden Rule Democracy

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” – Matt 7:12

As I noted a few days ago, the blog went quiet for a few weeks as I worked through just how to discuss recent life events. Having cleared that hurdle, it seems like a good time to rehash basic driving principles. (That, and this is our 800th post! – so it’s a good time to reflect.)

Golden Rule Democracy.

In a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, the government is the people. It is of little value to discuss what the government should or shouldn’t do in a given situation without understanding that in a democracy we are the government. Thus, anything the government is doing is something we are doing. So then, we cannot hide behind “the government” when ills persist … we are doing it. We cannot hide behind “the government” when we exceed neighborly behavior – Golden Rule behavior – in order to “do good”.

What do you want your neighbor to do to you in a given situation? You now must offer the same to him. You cannot do something to your neighbor via the government that you would not want him to do to you. This is a violation of the Golden Rule when we live in a democracy.

A while back I posted “Rightful Authority Spectrum” which attempted to categorize various political ideologies along how much authority they ascribed to both God and man in the ruling of the lives of others:

PoliticalSpectrum_rev2The “me axis” running from left to right describes how much authority I ascribe to myself in ruling the lives of my neighbors. The “God axis” running from bottom to top describes how much authority I ascribe to God in ruling the lives of me and my neighbors.

In the bottom left we have the athiest version of libertarianism (and even the anarchists) – they ascribe no right to themselves or God to rule over others.  On the bottom right we have progressives (and communists too) – who ascribe all right to themselves but none to God. The top right has both the religious right and religious left, who ascribe authority to God to rule the affairs of men, and are somehow self-appointed representatives of the Most High to enforce His will (which they have understand fully, no doubt). Then there is the top left, ascribing little-to-no authority to me to rule the life of my neighbor, but recognizing the sovereignty of God (and from this deriving any number of rights that belong to the citizenry, the people created in His image).

I hold that the religious left, who want to help the poor with government funds, violate the Golden Rule. For the government to spend anything it must appropriate it from the citizenry, which inherently involves the use of force. It is well beyond the bounds of the Golden Rule to put a gun to your neighbor’s head, take his money, and give it to the poor. The ends do not justify the means. The mere fact that they are oftentimes correct in their judgment that the wealthy should give to the poor does not justify the use of force to enact their judgement (on God’s behalf).

I hold that the religious right, who want to instantiate a moral society, violate the Golden Rule. Even if they are correct about their views on morality, the use of force to enact those judgements against moral crimes that have no earthly victim (or no earthly unwilling victim) is beyond what the Golden Rule allows. We must always hold open the prospect of making an error in judgment, and that using force (i.e. government) to back up our potentially errant judgment is a violation against the life and free will that God has granted us. (Now, in the case of crimes with victims our interjection is consistent with the Golden Rule – not in the preventing immorality by the criminal, but in defending the victim from harm, which is what we would want him to do for us.)

The broad-sweeping freedom I apply to my neighbors surely applies to the poor ones as well. Ayn Rand type libertarians hold to a form of social darwinism – they actually oppose charity and even want it to be illegal in some cases. If I am free to be stingy with my money (which is simply a proxy for the productive trade of my life) then I must also be free to be generous, and give it away to anyone I choose.

The implications of the Golden Rule in a democracy are pretty far reaching, but as a Christian I hold that life is best when lived consistent with the principles of the Bible.

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As a Woman Thought in Her Heart

“The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue.Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” – Acts 17:10-11

A few months ago a technical paper made its way around the offices at my work regarding nonlinearities in the measurement-to-state space conversion for an extended kalman filter, and the impact on filter performance. I wasn’t working that analysis task, but decided to give the paper a once-over since a number of my co-workers were and had asked my input. I got maybe 100 or 200 words into the paper before the authors made an egregiously simple calculus error. They wrote a first-order expansion of the nonlinear conversion function that violated the Taylor Series construct. Honestly! This is freshman calculus stuff.

I was prepared to put the paper down right then. You can’t mess up calculus and have anything useful to say to me about kalman filter behaviors. But, I knew that my co-workers were tinkering with this paper and so I read on, if for nothing else to keep them from wasting more time. (The error was both horrific, and subtle enough to be missed if you were just skimming, not paying attention.) Things didn’t get much better.

A similar thing happened a few years back with a book that was being used in a ladies Bible study in which my wife was participating. I was never going to go to any of the meetings (obviously), but the book was Battlefield of the Mind by one Joyce Meyer – a known Word of Faith adherent – so I thought I’d give it a look. It got sideways almost as quickly as the Taylor Series from above. Let me tell you my tale …

The Simple Misuse of Scripture …

Have you ever misinterpreted a scripture? Have you ever used a scripture to mean one thing when it actually means something else? I certainly have. I will contend that I did so out of ignorance. Let’s consider a few examples.

The one that immediately jumps to mind is the first half of Proverbs 10:7. In the King James Bible it reads “The memory of the just is blessed.” It sounds silly, but there was a time in college when I would rather attend church than study (I was quite the rebel in my youth). I read this in the KJV and said to myself “see, the memory [ability to recall facts] of the just is blessed, so I’m actually better off in school by going to church than studying.” Dumb, I know. Reading the verse in just about any other translation gives a different meaning … or even reading the whole verse in the KJV. Consider the ESV (my preferred translation these days): “The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot.” It is not the mental faculties of the righteous that is given more grace, but rather the remembrance that others have of the righteous that is a blessing.

Here’s another common one – Proverbs 18:24, once again in the KJV: “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly.” I think quite a few Christians have read this and assumed that it means “if you want to have friends, you must be friendly.” Now, here is an interesting point (to me anyway), the notion of “you have to be friendly to have friends” isn’t exactly wrong – but it is not what this verse means. It actually means something negative. Consider the ESV: “A man of many companions may come to ruin.” The idea that the proverb is relaying is that the effort that one has to put forth in keeping many friends happy may ultimately cause his ruin. I point this out to note that one can honestly make a mistake in interpreting scripture and not actually present an errant idea … but that is likely a less common outcome.

As a Woman Thought in Her Heart …

When it comes to Joyce Meyer, well, I’m not a fan. When I say “not a fan” I mean “I don’t like what she preaches” … I’ve never met her personally, cannot comment on the condition of her heart, but can certainly hold her teaching up to the light of scripture to see if it bears out. So, I picked up Battlefield of the Mind because my wife was reading it and I thought I’d give it a once-over. Did I mention I’m not a fan?

I won’t go through the entirety of the book (we all have better things to do). Instead, let me just quote a snippet from the introduction (a snippet I have heard preached in church long, long ago when I was in college):

What does Proverbs 23:7 really mean? The King James Version says As he [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he…. Another translation states, “As a man thinks in his heart, so does he become.” [all emphasis in original]

It’s an excellent question on just about any scripture – “what does this really mean?” Theologians will tell you that the whole focus of hermeneutics must be to ascertain “the plain meaning” of the text. The text cannot mean anything other than its plain meaning, and its plain meaning is also the one that is obvious to those to whom the text was originally directed. It’s basically the theologian’s version of Occam’s Razor. (This doesn’t mean the meaning can’t be extended or extrapolated to the lives of anyone reading. Consider 1 Cor 9:9-10, where Paul extends Deut 25:4 [don't muzzle the ox] to ministers of the gospel – but he doesn’t change the meaning of Deut 25:4 in the process.)

So what is the plain meaning of Proverbs 23:7? Usually it is a good idea to read the preceding and succeeding verses to gain context. While Proverbs often presents single verse thoughts, Proverbs 23:7 is actually part of a three-verse thought. Let’s consider first the KJV, then the ESV:

Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye,
neither desire thou his dainty meats:
for as he thinketh in his heart, so is he:
Eat and drink, saith he to thee;
but his heart is not with thee.
The morsel which thou hast eaten shalt thou vomit up,
and lose thy sweet words.

And now the ESV:

Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy;
    do not desire his delicacies,
for he is like one who is inwardly calculating.
    “Eat and drink!” he says to you,
    but his heart is not with you.
You will vomit up the morsels that you have eaten,
    and waste your pleasant words.

Plain meaning: stingy people may say to you “eat up” but they really wish you wouldn’t – their heart says something other than their mouths. Most readers view this as a simple warning against being a burden to a host, especially a stingy one. That’s it. The plain meaning. This is what the first readers of Solomon’s words would have understood. This is what every other person reading the words in a translation consistent with the modern from of their language would understand.

So what is Meyer chasing after with this “as a man thinks in his heart, so does he become” business? I’m not actually saying the idea is fraudulent (depending on how she means it) – but it is clearly not the plain meaning of the text. For instance, if you are constantly thinking about missing free throws, you’ll probably miss a lot of free throws – as my beloved North Carolina Tarheels can surely attest. But if she means something about the creative nature of self-actualization and positive thinking, then I think I would disagree … but we would have to debate it over other scriptures – this one doesn’t apply.

Furthermore, what “version” is she referring to? The book has a copyright of 1995, before the ubiquitous use of search engines. Fortunately, here in 2014, we can access every translation known to man at places like biblehub.com or biblegateway.com. I cannot find any translation that gives Meyer’s wording.

It’s funny, when I read this the first time I was floored – I have heard it preached with exactly the same words some 20 years ago sitting in a highly Word of Faith leaning church during my college years. I mean, exactly the same words; exactly the same “shocking discovery” that there is a translation out there that actually implies that our thoughts become our eventual nature … and then follows some Word of Faith message about the power of thoughts, the power of words, the creative ability of the man of faith, the ability to unleash the power of God through the force of faith (and on, and on).

Now, Meyer doesn’t say all of this in the snippet from the introduction, but she does misinterpret this scripture, giving it some “importance of thoughts” aspect that it does not contain. So then we are left with a simple question: why? There are a number of plausible explanations, but I’m afraid that none of them paints Ms. Meyer in a good light.

It Could Be Ignorance …

Back in the 1980s Jim Bakker was a Word of Faith, Prosperity Gospeler par excellence. (Side note: the “Prosperity Gospel” is an outcropping of WoF, but there is much more to WoF than just prosperity preaching. Fundamentally WoF is about self-worship, the elevation of man to all powerful, and the diminution of God to reactionary automaton responding to fulfill the self-actualized thoughts and words of man.) Bakker was eventually busted for fraud, and running a Ponzi scheme selling mini-time shares to facilities that didn’t exist.

A funny thing happened in prison: Bakker read the Bible. He admitted that he had never actually read it all, and that when he did he found that what he had been preaching was contrary to the whole of scripture. To my mind this is a beautiful expression of the mercy of God; sending Bakker to prison to give him some time away from a “successful” ministry to actually read the Bible.

Side note: If you haven’t read the entire Bible, you probably shouldn’t be a Bible teacher. If you don’t have enough desire for the Word of God to actually read the whole Book, and recently, then you really should question whether teaching is the right place for you (of course, everyone will have to determine for themselves what the appropriate measure of “recently” is … recognizing that in some parts of the world teachers haven’t read the whole Bible because they can’t get a full translation without being thrown in jail). OK, back to our story.

My point in bringing up Bakker is that even successful preachers can be ignorant of the plain meaning of scripture. (I doubt they can use that as an excuse though.)

Could it be that Joyce Meyer is simply ignorant of verses 6 and 8 (or the second half of 7) in the 23rd chapter of Proverbs? Perhaps she’s never read those verses, focusing only on the nine words that fit her desired message (and in the KJV at that).

Of course, this isn’t from a sermon or a blog post; it’s from a book. Typically a book will go through some variation of a gauntlet-run of editors and reviewers. Did none of them stop in the introduction to say “hey, what version uses those words, I’ve never heard them?” or “I don’t really think that half-verse means anything regarding the ‘importance of thought life’”? None of them? Nobody caught that? (Perhaps not surprising – WoF types hate criticism and thus do not allow anybody who asks difficult questions to be a part of their inner circle.)

… Or Worse

If not ignorance, then something worse. Is it possible here that Meyer is engaging in a time-honored tradition amongst New Agers and politicians alike: finding a snippet of scripture that seems to fall in line with a different message (pushed by the interested party) and using it to imply that the Bible actually backs up what they’re saying (even though it runs contrary to the common understanding of scriptures)?

It’s a pretty simple game. First, start with a message. It doesn’t really matter what the message is as long as you intently desire to push it and are willing to do anything to get your goal (like “I don’t want to study!”). Second, find a verse that says something vaguely similar to the message you want to send (cropping as much as you need and choosing the translation that leaves the most room for interpretation). Third, quote the scripture, and try to intimidate anyone who disagrees with your interpretation using a veiled threat of “you’re not disagreeing with me, but with God.”

I told you, none of the plausible explanations I could come up with painted Meyer in a positive light.

That doesn’t have to mean that a scripture-twister is being intentionally deceptive. They may actually believe the errant interpretation. I’ve noted before that it is not in the nature of wolves to view themselves as the “bad guy” intentionally bringing members of the flock to ruin. They are consuming the flock because that’s what wolves do. It doesn’t seem unnatural or wrong at all. (Consider for a moment the shock expressed by the rejected in Matthew 7:21-23.) My point here is that whether of honest ignorance or willful ignorance someone may easily misuse a scripture and not see themselves as doing anything wrong.

You’re Making a Big Deal out of One Little Blurb …

As with the calculus-failing filter analysts from before, I did actually read further in the book. What does Meyer think this verse means? Well, let’s consider what she has to say in Chapter 2:

For as a man thinks in his heart, so is he…. Proverbs 23:7

This one Scripture alone lets us know how very important it is that we think properly. Thoughts are powerful, and according to the writer of the book of Proverbs, they have creative ability.

Really? Is that what Proverbs 23:7 means to you? First, pick a message (“thoughts are powerful, they have creative ability, you can access the power of eternal spiritual laws by the force of faith”). Second, find a verse that says something vaguely similar to the message you want to send (cropping as much as you need and choosing the translation that leaves the most room for interpretation):

Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye,
neither desire thou his dainty meats:
for as he thinketh in his heart, so is he:
Eat and drink, saith he to thee;
but his heart is not with thee.
The morsel which thou hast eaten shalt thou vomit up,
and lose thy sweet words.

Third, quote the scripture, and try to intimidate anyone who disagrees with your interpretation using a veiled threat of “you’re not disagreeing with me, but with God.”

Misinterpreting scripture is a big deal for Christians. If a teacher gets something simple like Proverbs 23:7 wrong in the first 100 words or  so, then I really have to wonder where they’re going. Even if it was out of ignorance, I have to wonder what dangerous ideas will get promulgated out of ignorance. And if it is not out of ignorance, well, the word “run” comes to mind.

A Note on Criticism …

The typical response of WoF crowd to criticism is a knee-jerk “don’t be critical of folks who are trying to do something positive in the kingdom” flail. First, let me re-iterate that I cannot tell you the condition of the heart – only that there is a clear misinterpretation (and thus misuse) of scripture.

Second, as it comes to criticism, let me add that I have read the Bible front to back and it has quite a few critical figures. In the time of the Church, Paul is probably the most critical. Of course, I think even he may pale in comparison to John the Baptist or Moses. (Yes, Jesus was very critical too – but He’s Jesus.) My point is that “don’t be critical” is hardly a valid response. If it is an important issue then criticism is well warranted. Our heroes of the faith had quite a few critical things to say (particularly in the direction of religious leadership … ahem).

There is much more to say about WoF and Joyce Meyer, but I prefer blogging about politics and economics – and these are interesting times. (Though, I’ll note that the WoF folks may well be joining forces with other dominionists on the political front and attempting to take control over the “Tea Party” movements … so WoF may be back in our discussions anyway.)

Finally, let me reiterate Acts 17:11. The Berean Jews were called noble: “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” We live in a beautiful time and place here in 21st century America, where every Christian can own a Bible translated into English and can examine the scriptures for themselves to see if what is being taught is true. We should not take that for granted. It was not always so.

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On Leaving the Cause [Church]

“Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” – Eph 5:8(b)-10

A few weeks ago a friend passed along an article titled “5 Really Bad Reasons to Leave Your Church.” I wrote a response to the article, but have yet to publish it. I was concerned that someone reading the post may have felt it was commentary on my own recent decision to leave my church of over 13 years. Indeed, I haven’t posted anything for several weeks now because I was concerned about just how to address the issue. Bloggers (like preachers and pundits) tend to write about what they’re thinking about – so I was hard pressed to write something and not touch on leaving the church. Yet, I also was well aware of the potential to write something divisive, which is not at all what I want. But, as I do hope to continue blogging, it seemed that eventually I would have to write about the subject … so here goes.

My wife and I joined the church in the fall of 2000. We had just gotten married and moved to the area. We visited several churches but felt strongly that this was the right one. (Oddly, there were even churches we tried to visit but failed … when we got their listed addresses we found no church – once a residence, once a general store, and once an empty field. Back then you found church locations in the phone book … can you imagine?) At the time the church was called Crossroads Assembly of God, a fast-growing congregation of about 50-70 folks.

We quickly shot up to the 150-person range and had to find a new facility. The facility change led to a name change as well and we became Twin Rivers Church and Assembly of God. Somewhere along about 150 or 200 people the growth stalled out and we started what would be a rather long decline back to 40-50 people. So be it. I don’t want to be caught in the position of measuring success or failure of a church by its attendance. Plenty of false religions and heretical teachers have success – and that should not serve as an endorsement. Furthermore, the Lord Himself went through some serious “congregational declines” during His earthly ministry, and this should not serve as a measure of failure. I’m far more interested in the souls that were saved, the lives that were changed, the relationships that are formed, the “doing life together” that comes as being part of a community of believers.

We made a lot of friends over those years. People came and went. Some of them we still have relationships with and some we don’t (but we value the time we spent together). We laughed and cried together. We celebrated major events in each other’s lives; graduations, marriages, the birth of children and grandchildren. We mourned our losses together. Over the years we buried Adam, Karen, Chizoba, and Ethan – and Dayl too (though not a part of our church, her daughter was and we considered her family all the same).

In 2009 the longtime pastor left for a position at a new church and we went about hiring a new pastor. That’s never a fun process, but we did our job with diligence. We traveled far and wide, listened to a lot of preachers, conducted a lot of interviews, prayed a lot of prayers, and finally made a decision. (Interestingly, on his way out, the former pastor pulled me aside and told me that what this church needed, and what this community needed, was a young pastor with a lot of energy – and that is surely who we hired.)

The church grew again, back up into the 150-200 person range and we found a new facility. Once again, the facility change came about the same time as a name change – the church would now be “The Cause Church.” Safely into the new facility, my wife and I decided it was time to leave.

“But why?” Well that is the question isn’t it. My pat answer will be “God told is it was time to go” – and I mean it very sincerely.

“You mean God sent a thunderbolt out of the heavens and a booming voice told you to leave your church of 13 years?” Not exactly. But when someone says “God told me to [fill in the blank]” it doesn’t have to mean expressly that an audible voice beckoned from on high to give direction. He has told us a great many things in those 66 books we call the Bible.

“So this is all based on something you read in the Bible?” I’d like to think that all of my major life decisions are based on, or influenced by, what the Bible has to say. But I also believe that God is active in our lives, and that a man can ask wisdom from Him and receive it without reproach (James 1:5). And as we prayed, and read our Bibles, and watched the unfolding of events, and tried to discern what is pleasing to the Lord (Eph 5:10) it became clear that it was time to depart.

“But there had to be a reason.” Sure. Even in the midst of “God told us to go” there is likely an impetus. I mean, Jesus told the disciples to go to the uttermost parts of the earth, but they largely hung out in Jerusalem until Titus sacked the city in 70 AD (and then they did what He told them to do). In the end, I’d say that the pastor and I disagree over the validity of some teachers that are employed in various aspects of the ministry. (But, again, that may just be impetus – we left because the Lord led us away.)

In particular, I have a strong aversion to anything that even hints of “Word of Faith” teaching, which I find to be New Age Mysticism wrapped in a veneer of misinterpreted scripture. Thus, I find teachers like Joyce Meyer (and many others) to be quite off-putting. Having suffered a great many things being taught by Word of Faith preachers when I was a young Christian, I find myself unable to participate in a ministry that is not equally repulsed by them. (The pastor has told me that he likes Meyer and would have her preach in the church if he had the opportunity. One wonders what she might preach.)

I want to be clear here that it is OK for Christians to disagree, even on matters of theology. When I was younger I knew a lot of “fundamentalist” types who held that Catholicism was not a Christian denomination, and thus that Catholics weren’t Christians. I find this rather absurd. Catholics and I will disagree on a great many theological issues and yet I have no reason to think they are not Christians. (Only God knows if they have repented of their sins and have faith in Christ – if they have “believed and confessed” as Romans 10:9 says it.) In the same way, WoF adherents and I will disagree on a great many matters of scriptural interpretation. I find many of their teachers to be outright heretical. And yet, there can certainly be adherents of WoF who are simply confused but not “outside the faith” (I like to think that I was one such person in earlier times). We will hold their teachings up to the light of scripture, but only God knows their hearts.

And what shall we do when we disagree? Well, we can try to work it out (this should be the first thing, actually). And if we can’t come to agreement? Well, perhaps we can go along even if we disagree (some things really are small things). But what if that doesn’t work out? Well, we can go our separate ways and wish each other well.

Abraham and Lot parted company so there wouldn’t be any quarreling between their herdsmen. Paul and Silas parted company (but not the faith) because they had a sharp disagreement. As a father of four I can tell you that there are plenty of times that I come in a room to find my children fighting (often over some trivial injustice). In many situations I don’t pronounce judgment, exact justice, and set things right – I simply tell them to go be in separate rooms so they won’t fight.

And so too with us. It is OK for Christians to decide that they are not able to get along peaceably and simply part company. It is OK for us to realize that we cause more harm than good if we keep trying to resolve issues instead of just parting ways. But how shall we part? It is hardly feasible for church leadership to abdicate their responsibilities over a disagreement with a parishioner about a matter of theology. The only plausible solution is for us to go.

Honestly, we should have left over a year ago. Sometime in the late 2012 time frame seems like the right time to have made a departure. But late 2012 was a tough time. I had just buried my sister and father; and I have a policy of not making major life decisions (like leaving a church) in the midst of grief. First-off, we tend to make bad decisions in those times because we are looking for any way out of pain. Secondly, in such times it is important to have a pastor and a community that you can connect with (and the pastor and church were very helpful in that time).

I had also hoped to delay the departure until my family could relocate, thus covering the departure as part of the move. Again, I do not wish to be disruptive. Alas, we have yet to buy a new house, and we could stay no longer – the Lord made it clear that we were to go (and has made it even more clear since departing that we did the right thing).

And so we have left the church, but not the faith. And we will continue this journey through life together with the Lord’s leading.

As a final note I will caution the reader that I will, in future posts, touch on issues of church and theology. It would be wrong to look at these as directed at my former church. I can only imagine that those issues will come up, but they surely won’t be incorporated into every post I ever write on church.

I should also note that God’s plan for one is not necessarily God’s plan for all. Peter once asked the Lord what He would require of John, to which Jesus responded “what is that to you?” (John 21:22). Just because I say that the Lord told me and my wife to leave the church (and made it exceedingly plain) it does not mean that I think others should follow suit. Everyone should follow the Lord, try to discern what is pleasing to Him, and work out their own salvation (Phil 2:12).

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It’s Good to Be in the 1% … of 1% of 1% of 1%

“A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore” – Yogi Berra

The LA Times had an article out yesterday discussing how the richest 85 people in the world own roughly the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the worlds 7 billion plus people. That’s roughly 0.000001% of the population.

Before we get to the article, it is worth noting that in a free market one might reasonably expect productive capacities, ingenuity, drive, and even thrift to follow some form of power-law distribution (y=ax^b). Would it be the case in a free market that the top 85 folks have the same total wealth as the bottom 3,569,500,000? Probably not, but there is some power relationship that would likely hold, one would not expect even distribution of wealth.

By the way, those 85 folks are worth about $1.7 trillion according to the article. Obviously that wealth isn’t distributed evenly, but if it were that would be about $20 billion each.

The article does make a number of odd extrapolations using this data. First there is the typical expression of shock that wealth should be “unevenly” distributed. This argument tends to be made based on the scale of differences, but not based on some moral definition of what the distribution should be. I’m not going to say that I have an answer to that one either – but “everybody has the same” probably isn’t right (not everybody works with the same intentionality, and to make everybody the same is to subvert freedom … the one thing in which I think we should all be the same). At the very least they do hint at the potential for political instability – which is a fair point (again, not a point they made, but they danced around it in places).

Then there was this odd blurb: “The findings undermine democracy and make it more difficult to fight poverty.” Here I really have to scratch my head. First, the world is not governed by democracy. To lay world-wide inequalities at the feet of democracy is a bit out of place. It’s like claiming that rising and falling ocean tides fly in the face of every song ever written by the Little River Band. (You know you’re singing it in your head right now … “Take it easy on me; it should be easy to see; I’m getting lost in the crowd; hear me crying out loud”…)

Next we get to the rub. “How did it get this way?” – well, if the article and report are to be believed it’s “falling taxes for the rich and increased use of tax havens.” I’m not sure where to begin (but I will note that the group producing the report favors progressive taxation). I suppose the implication is that the wealth would be even more concentrated in the hands of the few if we had tax equality (everybody pays the same percentage of their production). Good thing we have the altruistic government to keep us from the evils of freedom and equality.

Of course, it should be rather painfully obvious that people worth $20,000,000,000 didn’t get that way by drawing a large paycheck and skirting the progressive tax system. The mega-wealthy don’t make money the same way. They make money when central bankers print money to inflate asset prices (who owns the assets?) transferring wealth from the bottom 3.5 billion to the top 85. You can probably guess that the article didn’t mention this mode of wealth transfer from poor to rich. Perhaps they don’t really care about the suffering of the poor, just their ability to preach social utopianism as the “better than thou” elites. But I digress.

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Federal Reserve Dangerously Close to Needing New Statistics

Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end,saying, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances,that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?”The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.” – Amos 8:4-7

A while back we published “Bernanke Prints On, How Do We Change the System?” In it we showed the “Bernanke Decision Tree” (reproduced shortly). The idea was simple: continued, gradual money-supply inflation is an effective means of transferring wealth from the poor and middle class to the politically-connected and already-rich. Because the “system” is always rigged in favor of the people in charge, the people at the center of the “system” – one can expect mental some impressive mental gymnastics and rationalizations to keep the printing presses going even if all the favored “indicators” say they can stop printing. (The only real reason to stop printing is if more printing threatens to destroy the whole system, thereby killing the golden goose for the super-rich.)

On Friday the US released it’s Non-Farm Payrolls Report (NFP) which showed some frustrating trends for the Fed. The so-called “establishment survey” showed that the growth in jobs is paltry, perhaps dangerously so. Yet the “household survey” showed that the unemployment rate had dropped to 6.7%, largely on the back of a massive drop in the labor force (people “retiring” or giving up). This represents a problem for the Fed, as once upon a time they claimed that 6.5% unemployment was some sort of meaningful number whereby asset purchases could be eliminated and one could even consider raising rates. Uh-oh. Not to worry, we’ll find another way.

Recall for a second the Bernanke Decision Tree, with my recent notes in green.

Slide2

Prices of things people buy have been rising. Prices of things they don’t buy as much, which is the measure preferred by the Fed, have also been rising, but not out of the ranges the Fed prefers – so Janet Yellen (the incoming Fed Chair) always has the option of saying “well keep the printing presses going because prices are still stable.” But if we saw an uptick in prices, and the unemployment rate keeps plummeting (because unemployed people stop looking for jobs) then we’ll have to find another measure of unemployment so we can keep turning the crank.

Articles on the subject have already started coming out – dismissing the lower unemployment as a statistical mirage. That’s fine, and I actually believe it’s a legitimate criticism … but it was legitimate to call unemployment a bad measure of economic health three years ago too.

But, to the super-rich who read this blog, I say “never fear” – Yellen will find a justification to crank up the printing press again. Money supply growth, which Keynesians equate to goodness and light, is not going anywhere if the Fed stops printing. Or, if the bottom is going to fall out, she’ll at least give you a “heads-up” before it happens. For those who don’t recall, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson did exactly this back in 2008, when he told Congress that everything was sunny at Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac, and then proceeded to tell Hedge Fund managers [and thus their billionaire clients] that Fannie and Freddie were heading into conservatorship. Insider trading in the cabinet … that’s our America.

So, it will be interesting to see what happens to the unemployment rate. If it continues its slide lower I suspect we’ll see some dancing by Yellen and the Feds. We’ll check back in about three months.

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Update on the Garden State

“We are morally indefensible and absolutely necessary” – Col Eric Byer [Edward Norton], The Bourne Legacy

Of all the Bourne movies, I think Bourne Legacy was by far the weakest. It lacked purpose. It lacked the emotional attachment of seeing Jason Bourne fight to recapture his life after suffering amnesia on a clandestine mission. Legacy was just more clinical in its consideration of a government coverup of nefarious behaviors. Still, it did produce a nice quote. Colonel Byer (played by Edward Norton) chides Aaron Cross (the Jason Bourne stand-in, played by Jeremy Renner) that their outfit is morally indefensible and absolutely necessary.

Many folks will argue that that is a real state of being. That one can have a morally indefensible role and yet be indispensable to achieving “good” outcomes. I say this is hogwash. If someone is truly “absolutely necessary” for achieving “good” then they are not morally indefensible … perhaps politically indefensible, but not morally indefensible. Such arguments are only presented because folks tend to have a wishy-washy definition of morality and revert to “whatever makes the masses cringe is immoral.”

Of course, a more likely case is that things are morally indefensible and simultaneously not necessary to achieve good. Here the issue is the definition of “good” – with “good” in the movie being whatever mechanism of control the fascist state wishes to employ.

Regardless of definitions, even in movie land it is hard to imagine that such shadowy dens of iniquity exist without at least some “head-nod” from positions of authority. One has to assume there is at least some acquiescence on the part of the seat of power to “do bad things to achieve ‘good’ outcomes, just don’t tell me about it.”

I only had a few moments to comment on the Chris Christie situation yesterday, and that was before he gave his 107 minute press conference. To recap, Christie aides shut down several lanes of traffic in accessing the George Washington bridge in and around Fort Lee, NJ. This led to massive traffic jams and was apparently political payback for the Fort Lee mayor who refused to endorse Chris Christie.

After months of denials, some emails and text messages have emerged that show Christie’s office was indeed involved. Most notable to my mind was when one participant texted that they felt bad for the children stuck on school buses in the middle of the traffic jam. The response from Christie’s aide: “those are the children of Buono voters.” State Senator Barabara Buono was Christie’s opponent in the gubernatorial election. The message here is clear: “your pain doesn’t matter if you didn’t vote for me, your life is of little-to-no worth and I don’t at all mind using the ‘power of the people’ entrusted to me in order to inflict pain on you to prove a morally indefensible and absolutely necessary point.”

Is it any wonder this guy gets along so well with President Obama? Something about “minds thinking a like” …

Speaking of the president, Governor Christie appears to have invoked the Obama defense in all of this. When the IRS scandal, the Benghazi scandal, the Fast-and-Furious scandal, and all the other scandals broke, the administration’s defense was simply “we didn’t know” or “we found out about it the same time you did – by watching the news.” This led Senator Rand Paul to quip that “at no time was the Obama administration aware of what the Obama administration was doing.”

The defense was both laughable and effective. Does anyone think for one second that the IRS would target political opponents of the president without at least some acknowledgement at higher levels? Perhaps three or four layers of middle management existed between Lois Lerner and Barack Obama, but this type of stuff doesn’t happen unless somebody, somewhere has gotten the clear impression that it is OK to behave in such a way.

The same holds for Christie. He has claimed that he didn’t know, that he’s surprised by all of this, that his staff lied to him – and it could all be true. But even if it is all true, staffers don’t get the idea that they can behave badly without having learned over the years that such behavior is tolerated and even encouraged. Staffers don’t come to the conclusion that it is OK to inflict pain on the children of the supporters of political opponents unless they have learned over the years that such behavior is acceptable and perhaps even a morally indefensible and absolutely necessary part of government.

We’ll see what shakes out over the next few days and weeks. I personally hope there is an investigation. Whatever comes, one has to suspect that Christie’s political future is in doubt. While traditional democrat voters may tolerate this crap from their politicians (e.g., Obama), there are enough folks on the Right (e.g., Tea Party) that don’t at all mind scuttling political expediency for the sake of principle. Agree or disagree with those principles, at least they guide actions. In this case, the Tea Party types will be more than happy to use this as a means to foil Christie’s presidential aspirations … if he even stays in office long enough to make the primary.

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Impeach the Executive! (No, Not That One)

And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass by them;the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” – Amos 7:8-9

The internet is abuzz this morning with tales of abuse of power from the executive branch. No, it’s not president Obama. This time it’s the executive branch of the state of New Jersey.

It appears that a political aide to governor Chris Christie intentionally caused traffic jams around Fort Lee NJ as political retribution against the city’s mayor who refused to endorse Christie for governor. The linked article gives a great summary of the situation. Apparently a Christie aide exerted some influence over the Port Authority and had some lanes closed round Fort Lee for no reason … other than political payback.

Can you imagine the outrage from the Right if president Obama abused power in such a way? (He does, of course – and the Right responds loudly.) This is the behavior of tyrants.

Now, there is still the chance that Christie will dodge the bullet, distancing himself from the situation and pinning the blame on political appointees (who will get some manner of payoff later in the game).

The way to fix this, of course, is to hold people accountable. When politicians abuse their power in any way, shape, or form we should boot them from office. No, I wasn’t stuck in a four-hour traffic jam in Fort Lee, but I’m no different than the people who were. This is the way political tyrants see us. We are the sheeple, we are pawns in the game, hardships placed on us don’t matter, don’t count, don’t even register.

The country is watching, NJ. Will you take action?

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