Famine in the Land of Plenty

25 11 2010

Let’s imagine a hypothetical situation for a moment.  We’ll take a pre-Industrial Revolution town, just some plaster houses with a small business district and surrounding farms, and we’ll give it a combine and a tractor and all of the necessary mechanized implements.  In this way, one man can  manage enough farmland to feed the entire community and have plenty left over for export.  This is an incredible boon for the town, because they now have all the food they need, provided for minimal cost.  Now the farm workers are out of a job.  Because the town was mostly agrarian, that means that most of the inhabitants are now unemployed.  Those merchants with a non-agriculture occupation are also forced out of business, because the majority of their customers are now unemployed.  The whole town slides into economic depression, because, although the food is plenty and cheap, no one has money to buy it, because no one has a job.  The man on the combine must find new customers in a hurry, because the town can’t buy his goods.  In this case, the community has more resources than ever before, but they slip into poverty anyway.  All of their basic needs are filled.  They don’t know what a television is, or a cell phone, or a computer.  They only needed a roof, clothes and food.  They could make their own clothes from the sheep in the backyard.  The roof is a done deal, and the food is plentiful and provided by one man.  With the work of a single individual, the entire town could take a more or less permanent vacation.  This is, of course, an exaggeration to make a point.  But the entire town has done nothing to deserve the food.  Only that one man earned anything.  Therefore, the entire town cannot get the food, because they have done nothing to earn it, even though it is there and ready for the taking.

The real paradox of a depression is that, while the society has all of the machinery necessary to produce everything it needs, which are all of the things it was producing prior to the depression, no one can afford those things.  Through the law of supply and demand, one would expect the products to become cheaper as demand decreases, offsetting the problem, but if the people are unemployed, then the luxuries could never be cheap enough to be purchased, yet expensive enough to be produced.  If the people have no income, then they can’t afford anything at any price, and if they are unemployed, then they have no income.  If people don’t buy their goods and services, then they will be unemployed, but people cannot buy their goods and services because they have no income, either.  So there’s the paradox.  Everyone is willing and able to produce all of the things that everyone else wants to buy, but can’t, because no one is able to buy their goods and services, either.

Getting back to the problem of the man on the combine.  At first glance, we would fault the farmer for buying the combine and putting others out of a job.  That would be foolish, though.  He should not be faulted for providing an abundance of food to the community, or for finding a much more efficient way of doing it.  We should say, rather, that the farm hands have been freed to provide other services to the community.  Unfortunately, these services can not be afforded by anyone, because too many people are unemployed.  Everyone wants to sell something, but nobody can, because nobody can buy anything because they can’t sell anything either.  The problem is not that the town had too much food.  That could never be a problem for anyone.  The problem was that the food industry was too big of an industry for the town.  When it changed, the economy could not absorb the change.  A few unemployed people might eventually find a new niche to fill.  An entire town full of unemployed people would be hard pressed to find any means of income.

A single industry can have a sudden shift.  A market for cars or widgets can saturate overnight.  Suddenly, nobody needs another car or widget.  Everyone who wants one has one, so the industry must downsize, and people are left looking for new employment.  Sometimes, as with the combine, new technology displaces the old.  People who made a living making and selling the slide rule were driven out of business by those who make and sell the electronic calculator.  We cannot fault people for inventing a marvelous new device.  We cannot fault people for finding a better way of producing things.  The problem is not that an industry shifts.  All industries shift.  That’s how progress is possible.  The problem is when an industry shift is so huge that it takes the entire economy down with it.

Those communities in the Midwestern United States area are often plagued by single-industry towns, like a town built around a paper mill, or a town built around a pencil factory.  When that one major factory fails, when the pencil business drops in response to the use of computers, for example, the entire town, all the way from the mechanic to the jeweler collapses.  In terms of basic needs, they still had available everything that they needed to live, same as before, but no one could pay for those things, because too many people were out of a job.  The supply was untouched.  The demand would be untouched if people could find a way to earn their right to the supply.  The economy for the country at large is not entirely different.  When any one industry becomes so huge that it cannot hiccup without taking down all other industries, it has the potential to, sooner or later, start a chain reaction that ultimately has us all waiting in a food distribution line.  On the large scale, these industries are big things like automobiles, fuel and housing, the things that we dump the greatest portion of our income into.  The greatest of these is housing.

At the moment of this writing, foreclosures are extremely high.  The country is full of empty homes and people badly in need of them.  Society has everything it needs to be prosperous.  There are enough homes to go around.  No one need be without one.  In this case, the combine has been replaced with the housing market.  Everyone needs that industry badly, and that industry has ample supply, but no one can afford it at any price, because people are becoming highly unemployed.  There’s no shortage in supply.  There’s not really even any surplus of demand.  There’s just a shortage of jobs.

Now, in any economic crisis, the focus is always on the jobs.  Everyone wants to be employed.  In fact, they’re more concerned about having a job than they are about getting the newest gadget.  Yet, if they don’t buy the newest gadget, then someone else will be out of a job, and other gadgets will not be purchased.  In the past, the government has responded to this one-sided predicament by emphasizing its opposite, by encouraging people to spend their money.  The government is always anxious to have us spend more money, not only because it generates tax revenue, but also because it helps to balance the supply versus demand.  It takes the focus off of getting more money, that we might spend more money, to ultimately help us get more money.  This has two problems to it.  First, it puts the cart before the horse.  No one should be expected to buy anything that they did not already want to buy.  The burden is on the seller to provide something worth buying.  Second, this approach has never once succeeded.  That, alone, should be reason enough to abandon this method.

The real solution goes back to the man on the combine.  His single industry is huge for an agrarian culture.  Any change in his one industry, even a positive change, can cause the economy to collapse.  The people have more food, but fewer people actually get any food, because nearly everyone is now unemployed.  The problem was not that he ruined the industry.  In fact, he improved it greatly.  The problem was that his industry was too important to the over-all economy.  Had he been in the business of selling widgets, he could rise and fall without affecting anyone else.  Likewise, the housing industry is not to be faulted for creating too many houses or too few, but for being too big a part of our expenses.  Home loans, coupled with the rush on the housing market, caused prices to soar.  People could spend more if they could borrow more, and if they were suddenly motivated to buy a bigger house on the same income, then they had less money left each month to spend on other things.  This would not be such a problem, except that those other things happened to be other people’s livelihoods.  When those other things were no longer being bought, then those people lost their jobs.  When they lost their jobs, they could no longer afford to buy other things, and those people lost their jobs.  Eventually, the chain reaction worked its way around to the housing industry, itself, because the people who got the bigger loans could no longer pay for them, because they were largely unemployed.  So the housing industry collapsed.  We have a lot of people in need of homes and a lot of homes in need of people, with no way to bring the two together.  It’s like the town full of people starving to death, because the man with the combine is producing too much food.

In the end, the economy pulls itself together.  The government is always useless in this effort.  If they could have done anything, then they probably would have found a solution to these things by now.  Despite great odds, people must strive to find a way to produce goods so worthwhile that they can squeeze a profit in a dry economy.  The unemployed farm hands must invent other services to provide the world.  Avoiding a recession is quite a different thing than getting out of one, though.  A recession happens not only when something big goes wrong, but it even happens when something big goes right.  The problem is that something big happened.  The problem is that any one industry should be too big a portion of our economy.  If a business cannot shrink and grow, change and develop without toppling the economy, then we have the makings of economic instability.  It would be tempting to suggest government-legislated price limits, but this only forces the problem out in other directions.  The real problem lies in the mentality of the people in our society.  It’s a problem that no single individual can do anything about.  I can do my best to live within my means, thusly creating a stable personal economy, but if the rest of the world does not do this, then my finances will always be at risk.  I can diversify my portfolio, but the whole thing can still plummet entirely if the rest of society crashes.  The best thing I can do is buy a smaller, more affordable home, drive less, and drive an economy car.  In this way, the biggest industries can have less impact in my life.  Still, the economics of one person is not enough.

The fact is that we all love to have the biggest, nicest home, drive the flashiest car, and travel the world.  So long as this country remains addicted to this limited sort of materialism, it will not have the economy to pursue these very things.  It’s almost like trying too hard to sleep, or trying too hard to be happy.  The effort is self-defeating.  In the meantime, the best that the government can do is to avoid making any big changes in spending and taxation, unless necessary.  Sometimes the last thing we need during times of trouble is someone’s idea of a solution.  The government, after all, is possibly the biggest industry of them all.

The story of the town with the combine is not entirely fictional, though.  Just prior to the Great Depression, farmers were complaining to their government that food was too plentiful, and they were not generating enough revenue from their farming.  The government’s solution was to pay the farmers to destroy food.  The economic collapse that followed left people standing on the riverbanks watching trucks dump potatoes into a river, with police guarding the load to keep people from jumping in to save the food.  A man could earn a wage to dig a ditch, so that pigs could be herded into it and shot, then buried.  By destroying enough food to feed an entire town, he could earn enough to buy his family a meal.  The masses were starving in the land of plenty, and the government was using their money to make the land less plentiful.  Clearly, they were solving the wrong problem.  But then, the government always did have a way with money.


A Thumb to the Wind; awaiting a coming storm

6 11 2010

Is the government watching you?  Is there a camera installed in your television?  Are people monitoring your every move with GPS tracking?  Perhaps the government has built concentration camps for dissidents?  Are you worried that rail cars are being equipped with guillotines and shackles for the event of social unrest and martial law?  Are the elections rigged?  Are we on the verge of totalitarian tyranny?  Periodically, someone starts a story to scare the country, a conspiracy theory that the government is making plans to overthrow our basic liberties and kill its opponents.  The prophecy watchers usually manage to link it to apocalyptic scripture.  Other tremulous individuals chalk it up as the beginning of some Orwellian dystopia.  Still others, sitting in the sidelines, make a great deal of fun out of the matter, mocking the conspiracy theorists while patting themselves on the back for their own reasonableness and raw intelligence.  While the last group might be right that the conspiracy theorists are frightened of their own shadows, the one thing that they seem to overlook is that this sort of thing happened before, and, likely, all of this will sooner or later happen again.  We hold our thumbs to the wind and judge for ourselves of the coming storm.  It will come.  It always comes.

Our classic example is usually the Nazi regime, which can be described by the dual horrors of the Holocaust and the Second World War.  To adequately gauge our proximity to its repeat, we would, then, need to understand the underlying cause of these atrocities.  As is usually the case, the popular ideas, the ones they fed us in school, are only superficially true.  In this case, the cause is said to be the Versailles Treaty, which is assumed to have oppressed the Germans into economic ruin.  However, Hitler overthrew this burden prior to the war, and no war was evidently necessary to prevent its return.  Anti-Semitism could have explained the Holocaust, but if this sentiment had been the cause, then it was manifest for many centuries without incident.  Something else would be necessary to initiate the act.  Additionally, the death camps consumed quite a number of individuals other than Jews.  The act of purging society of unwanted people through mass murder is a problem in itself, regardless of who happens to be its target.  The real travesty was not that the Jews were targeted for slaughter, but that any civilization would target any group for slaughter.  The real problem lay in the fact that a society perceived that the world ought to be conquered by the Germans and that the world ought to be purged of inferior people.  Politicians may go to war for petty causes, but nations die for noble ones.  The people of Germany threw themselves into the meat grinder for what they thought to be a worthy purpose.

Technology and genetics were the litmus test for the Nazi regime.  If a person showed Arian (Germanic) characteristics, then that person was of a superior race.  Why would that race be superior?  It was deemed superior because the Germans had proven their superiority through superior technology.  The most advanced civilization was supposed to have been that way as the result of superior genetics.  Translation: they were more highly evolved.  Racism against Africans and native Americans has been often justified by these peoples’ inferior technological development.  Because a farmer in the Congo, who plows his field with a sharp stick and an ass, doesn’t know how to rapidly propel balls of lead at an enemy, he is assumed to be mentally inferior.  The arrogance of Nazism rested in the belief that all Nazi technology came from Nazi ingenuity, as though acquired understanding were passed from parents to their children through their genes.  In truth, no single civilization has had a monopoly on innovation.  The real story is that the nations that best communicate with, trade with and share ideas with other nations around the globe are the nations that collect the greatest store of technology.  Europe had this cutting edge through its imperialism.  They imported resources from around the world and assimilated it for themselves.  In our time, it is the United States that has mastered multinational relations.  Whatever we needed, we imported from without, whether it be chai tea or the atomic bomb.  If anyone is at risk for falling for the same delusion, it is we.

But, what is this delusion?  Digging beneath the superficial element of mere economics, we find the dogma of Darwinism, though that isn’t really even the ultimate underlying cause, either.  The Nazis dared to conquer the world in order to displace all other people to the point of extinction.  What is not often known is that the First World War was fought for the very same reason.  The textbooks give credence to the idea that Europe killed itself because a very angry Serb shot in the head some fat Austrian in a funny outfit.  The chain of alliances and mutual defense pacts then caused a chain reaction of entanglements that drew all of Europe into war.  This, of course, is only superficially true.  People don’t mass for a common cause to fight and die over a contractual technicality.  Germany, formerly known as Prussia, had for a long time been seizing its surrounding Germanic neighbors in a quest for power.  The Teutonic mission was to unite all Germans under a single banner, and then to overcome the rest of the world.  The assassination that started it all was merely the excuse to let it all begin.  That war was not fought because an Austrian was killed.  It was fought because the people of Germany believed that it ought to be fought, that France ought to be conquered, that the world ought to be overcome.  Professors in Germany, even then, were teaching that the Germans were a more highly evolved people, and that they would eventually drive the lesser peoples to extinction.  Britain could, possibly, have prevented the second war by bombing more German universities and shooting more German professors while they were at it.  The underlying dogma did not die between the two wars, and so the horror was repeated.  Therefore, we must ask ourselves how close we are to repeating it, ourselves.

If the Second World War was a better-organized and more enthusiastic version of the first, then we can set it aside and look more closely the first one to understand them both.  In the couple of decades leading up to the First World War, Europe saw the emergence of new trends that it had not seen in several centuries by any other name.  Eugenics, Futurism, Socialism, Social Darwinism, institutionalized Darwinism, and the abortion epidemic all took root in this tumultuous period.  Eugenics was the belief that inferior people, poorer and less fit, should be discouraged from breeding, that this most sacred act of reproduction should be controlled by an authority to produce a better society.  We see it today in China’s one-child rule.  Futurism was a belief that humanity was evolving toward greater and greater heights, technologically, genetically and socially.  Socialism was the belief that society should act as a single unit to promote its over-all betterment, rather than be left to individuals.  Social Darwinism was a practical application of Darwinism in the social realm, a matter of taking evolution seriously, making it really just another form of eugenics.  Darwinism, itself, was the promotion of the best race against and to the utter deletion of all others.  Abortion was promoted, happily, as a useful means for enacting eugenic theory, because a child was better-off murdered than allowed to live as an inferior and impoverished being.  Over all, the first two decades of the twentieth century were a time of hope, change and unabashed unrestrained arrogance.  In all of this, Darwinism was the underlying theme, the religion of the new age.  But the underlying cause of Darwinism was modernism, the complete reliance on technology and the exclusive faith in nothing beyond or behind the physical universe.  We were gods.  We were evolving.  Change was good.  We put our faith in mortal men, sacrificing our culture, our liberties and even our children to the all-consuming juggernaut.

Modernism, but especially atheistic modernism, has been the terror of our time.  Christian modernism is represented in the Northern Baptists and  Christian evolutionists, those who flatly reject the miraculous simply because it is miraculous.  Whether they are correct in their theology or not, they do lend a morsel to the monster.  The real threat has always been secular, modernist and Darwinist.  A physical universe indicates no moral code, and if the physical universe is all we accept, then we are free to do anything.  Additionally, if we are Darwinist, then the nearest we can come to something we might call “good” is through competition, subversion and the complete elimination of all peoples not resembling us.  It might be the duty of the strongest race to kill all others, if this were the case.  Moreover, if there were no God, then the primary arbiter and engineer of human destiny would be humanity, itself, which cannot achieve a unified purpose without clear leadership and rigid organization.

So, how close are we to seeing another horror?  Our schools are still teaching Darwinism.  We still control the most advanced civilizations.  Society is still overwhelmingly dominated by the modernist mindset.  To top this off, our government has been growing steadily since its inception, centralizing power and taking on more of the socialist responsibilities formerly assigned to the individual.  Atheism and secularism have a stronger hold than ever before.  The travesty of abortion goes without saying.  A man can earn a jail sentence for causing the death of an ocotillo, but he can also receive a jail sentence for preventing the death of an unborn child.  We have all of the necessary elements that we had then, and we have it in spades.  So, what, then, is keeping the next evil from rearing its ugly head?  Our unlikely allies in this case include a vocal and militant conservative, and mostly Christian, bloc in the United States, paired with a growing postmodern movement in Europe.  The very same religious fanatics that see conspiracies and persecution under every rock are the very roadblocks to those horrors.  Enough of them exist within the United States to cause a political overthrow of the presiding power at first scent of tyranny.  The government knows this.  Consequently, while these conspiracy theories continue to be only theories, they act to prevent their own fulfillment.  Such people were not a force in Germany prior to the wars.  The self-proclaimed intellectuals may continue to ridicule the paranoid conservatives for every false fear, but this is only possible because the paranoid actively keep the fears false.  So long as enough people worry and chatter about their conspiracy theories, there will never actually be any conspiracies.  At least, there will not be any successful ones.

On the European side of the equation we have postmodernism holding down the fort, where Christianity and real conservatism have almost breathed their last.  Ironically, postmodernism is also a mortal enemy to the faith.  It just conveniently happens to be a considerable enemy to a more dangerous enemy.  At least, modernism is a more physically dangerous enemy.  As for the destiny of the soul, they are both a threat.  Postmodernism did exist prior to the First World War, though it was not strong enough to prevent it.  In fact, one might figure that it came about as a reaction against the meaninglessness and meanness of modernism and Darwinism.  When faith in evolution reached its prime, that’s when postmodernism gave its natal cry.  Not strong enough to deny modernism, yet not willing to accept it, postmodernists lulled themselves into an agnostic slumber.  They can accept evolution, but they cannot accept its implications.  They can swallow the bait of adaptation, but they cannot stomach the mechanism of change.  They want to be the top of the food chain, but they won’t eat meat.  They want to evolve to a higher level, but they won’t suffer natural, or in this case artificial, selection.  Consequently, today’s Europe still wants to dominate and change the world, but they’ve pulled out all of the necessary teeth and claws for performing this task.  They are the rabbit that would devour the wolf.  Problem is, the wolf is Muslim, and it has teeth.

So we wet our thumbs and hold them to the air to determine which way the wind blows.  Does a chill wind blow from the east, or does it hearken from the west?  The west would riddle us, but it is checked, for now.  The east would devastate us, but it is weak, for now.

At the moment, we are safe.

At the moment, so far, we are so good.

God bless this moment.