23 Jul 2017

RC Sproul on Romans

Religious 13 Comments

I’ve been listening to RC Sproul go through the book of Romans.  

This is something that took me a long time to get, even though I had gone to religious schools for years and had accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. Nonetheless, when I was going through counseling with the preacher who was going to officiate at my wedding, one of the questions he had on a take-home worksheet was, “When you die and stand before God, what will you say to gain entrance into heaven?” (Or something to that effect.)

So I wrote something like, “I will say that I always tried to tell the truth even when it came at great personal cost.”

After he had had time to read the answers, he basically took out a Bible and proved to me that I was wrong. What startled me about this demonstration was:

(a) That apparently the Bible did *not* teach that there was a certain bar and your life had to be good enough to “pass” and make it into heaven.

(b) That somebody could actually use the Bible to settle such a question in the first place. I somehow had the idea that “this is ultimately up to God and who are we to know such a thing?”

I realize that my original viewpoint relayed in (a) seems natural and obvious, and I realize that even many Christians today believe (b). (I’ve had them argue with me on this blog in the past, and perhaps they’ll do so now as well.) But I am encouraging people (especially followers of Christ) who have never thought about (a) and (b) above to investigate more fully. For example you can try listening to Sproul and see if he suits you.

In a nutshell, the perspective my pastor shared with me was this: The works of men and women are but filthy rags compared to the righteousness of God. People are prideful and don’t like to admit their error. They look around at others and think, “Well I’m not a murderer.” (My pastor in Houston once dealt with this trait by saying, “Convicted murderers in prison say without irony, ‘I never killed kids.'”) But compared to God, we are all abominable sinners. We sin dozens of times daily. (Remember that if you’re a married man and look with lust at another woman, you’ve committed adultery in your heart.)

So you deserve hell. God is just and so He can’t just turn a blind eye. But Jesus takes our sins upon Himself and died on the cross for us, reconciling us with the Father. If you are willing to accept the gift of grace provided through Jesus’ self-sacrifice, then you can enter the kingdom of God.

Note, sometimes people say, “Oh, so God says I will burn for eternity if I don’t love him. What a tyrant.” But no, He is saying you will burn for eternity which is a just punishment for your sins. You might disagree with that, but then again most convicted criminals probably don’t agree that they deserve the punishment they get. But Jesus provides a means by which God’s love and forgiveness can rescue us while still satisfying His righteousness and His law.

I am not trying to give elaborate defenses of any of the above, and I’m also sure that even other Protestants would quibble with my wording. But I wanted to at least give a succinct post laying out a perspective that would have blown my mind, even after I had accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. (Which shows that I didn’t fully understand all it entailed when I sincerely took that step.)

19 Jul 2017

Explaining Current and Capital Accounts to Scott Sumner

Trade 20 Comments

(If that title sounds hostile and/or presumptuous, it’s only because I sat here for about 3 minutes trying to think of something funny.)

Over at TheMoneyIllusion, Scott first quotes from a news story:

The National Association of Realtors released a report Tuesday that said foreign buyers and recent immigrants spent an estimated $153 billion on American properties in the year ending March 2017. That was a 49% increase over the previous year and the highest level since record-keeping began in 2009.

The purchases accounted for 10% of the total value of existing home sales in the U.S. The report did not include new homes.

The breakdown of sales between foreigners and recent immigrants was about 50:50.

Then Scott writes:

Of course the sale of homes to immigrants is not an export, but it does have a similar economic impact.  However the sale of homes to foreigners does represent a US export, and creates lots of goods jobs for American blue collar workers.  (Note that it doesn’t really matter whether they buy new or existing homes; the net effect on the housing market is the same.)  So the protectionists should be rejoicing, right?

Actually, just the opposite.  The US government does not even count these as exports.  Instead they are treated the same as net borrowing.  They are considered a part of America’s current account deficit, leading to all sorts of silly hand-wringing about how America is borrowing too much and living beyond our means.  

I wrote in the comments:

Scott,

If you think selling a house sitting on U.S. land to a foreign buyer is the same thing as exporting a car (of comparable market value), would you be OK if the IRS treats the revenue from your Boston house sale the same as a bonus check from Bentley? I mean, in both cases you’re selling something for money, so they’re both “exports” from Scott Sumner, right?

(I am referring to Scott’s other post where he says he is moving from Boston to somewhere in California.)

In case my smug comment is too opaque for you, try this:

SCENARIO #1: Your teenage son tells you, “I bought $20 worth of materials at Home Depot and made a bed that I sold to the neighbor for $100. I made $80 profit, woo hoo!”

SCENARIO #2: Your teenage son tells you, “I bought $20 worth of materials at Home depot and made a bed that I sold to the neighbor for $100. I also sold him my bedroom for an additional $200. So now I have to sleep in the family room on the couch, FYI. But at least I made $280 of profit, woo hoo!”

Admittedly, Scott doesn’t believe that “income” is a meaningful concept in economics, so I don’t expect him to be troubled by my zingers. However, some of you may see my point when I have been arguing these last few years that sometimes Scott and Don Boudreaux are a tad too glib when they go after Trumpistas.

UPDATE: Ryan Murphy knocks me on my heels on Twitter regarding this. The whole thing is subtle.

19 Jul 2017

Potpourri

Climate Change, Contra Krugman, Shameless Self-Promotion 4 Comments

==> Oren Cass says climate alarmists are the real science deniers.

==> Excellent advice from Jordan Peterson for all of you super-intellectuals.

==> A lot of people have wondered if the mechanism by which expanded ACA (Medicaid) coverage has been correlated with mortality, is through opioid addiction. This guy thinks it’s a tenuous link.

==> A young Milton Friedman apparently assigned readings from Mises and Hayek in his class on business cycles.

==> In Contra Krugman episode 95, we talk about the history of economic thought. Plus: Easter egg at the end.

==> Speaking of the history of economic thought, I chime in concerning Rick Perry and Say’s Law. An excerpt:

But that’s not (of course) what J.B. Say was claiming. Look, if we are going to be uncharitable, I can do the opposite trick and mock all the people who said Perry had confused supply and demand. All the people who argued, “No Perry, the real rule is that consumers have to demand a product and then business will supply it,” are equally ignorant. After all, I hereby announce my willingness to spend up to $10,000 on a vacation to Mars. There’s my demand, entrepreneurs. Now where’s the supply of that service? Hmm, so much for Keynesian demand-side explanations…

Of course, I’m being tongue-in-cheek. There is truth to the proposition that “demand creates supply” if we interpret it charitably. But on the other hand, there is truth to the proposition that “supply creates demand” if we interpret it charitably. And a more sophisticated explanation would say that supply and demand interact.

To sum up, what J.B. Say actually wrote about the “law of markets” was quite sophisticated, and it would be very refreshing if today’s pundits and policymakers took 20 minutes to review his arguments. Say never wrote “supply creates its own demand,” and he never endorsed the obviously false proposition that a business putting out any product whatsoever will automatically find buyers.

19 Jul 2017

Christian Professor Who Loves Harry Potter Novels

Religious 1 Comment

This was interesting and lines up with my thinking:

17 Jul 2017

Let’s Give Trump Credit for This

Foreign Policy 5 Comments

It is absolutely amazing that Donald Trump has pulled off what I would have thought impossible just a few years ago: He has made it “cool” for someone on Fox to tear into the neocons.

Over at EconLog, David R. Henderson notes that Steven Chapman writes a whole article complaining about how Trump has somehow gotten the entire GOP to abandon its traditional hostility to Russia. Chapman thinks this is (self-evidently) a bad thing, whereas I would say, “Well, that’s definitely a positive outcome, notwithstanding a collection of negatives.”

Incidentally, I don’t think this is a case of Trump having millions of followers who will believe whatever he tells them. No, I think the rank and file Rush-Limbaugh-loving conservative doesn’t think “the Middle East is worth one drop of US blood.” But it took Trump to smash through the Imperial power structure of intellectuals, policy wonks, and major media.

EDIT: I don’t know much about Tucker Carlson; I don’t have a TV. I think he knows what the country is ready for, and is riding the wave. But my point is, Trump made this flipping of the GOP rank and file possible. (Also check out this story about the time Fox News went to war with Carlson when he worked for CNN.)

17 Jul 2017

Vox Authors Are Too Smug For Me, Even When They Are Trying to Be Helpful

Culture Wars 4 Comments

I realize this might be a case of me not taking “yes” for an answer, but you don’t come to Free Advice to read what everybody else is saying. You want the unique reaction that only I can provide…

So at Vox, Henry Farrell and Steven Teles give a gentle but firm critique of Nancy MacLean and her hit job on Public Choice economists. It is interesting because unlike the responses from David R. Henderson, Mike Munger, Don Boudreaux, Phil Magness, etc., these two authors are not obviously just circling the wagons and defending their own. (Disclaimer: I actually don’t know Farrell and Teles, so I’m just relying on the fact that Vox published them and that others are saying at least one of them is mildly a leftist.)

I have to say, I could barely concentrate on their main point, after reading this opening:

It’s always hard in politics for people to take their opponents’ views seriously, but it has become ever harder in Trump’s America. People are more engaged with politics, but only because they want to beat the other side, not understand it. This means scholars have a greater responsibility than ever to help ordinary citizens understand how the people with whom they disagree think, and what their political opponents are actually doing.

Most scholars get this. For example, political scientists and historians, who tend to range from the political center to the left wing, have written extensively about the origins and development of American conservatism. Rick Perlstein, the left-wing historian, has written intelligently and sensitively about the Barry Goldwater movement and the rise of the modern US right. Jefferson Decker at Rutgers University has carefully tracked how reaction against the role of the federal government in Western public lands gave rise to conservative public interest law.

Angus Burgin has thoroughly dug into the history of the Mont Pelerin Society, founded by Friedrich Hayek in 1947, showing how a transnational network of free market thinkers helped change the global conversation on political economy. One of us (Teles) devoted years to making sense of how conservative foundations helped shape the academic discipline of law and economics, build the Federalist Society, and, more recently, support criminal justice reform. And this barely scratches the surface of high-quality scholarship across multiple disciplines on conservatism.

This kind of work is not just important because it involves scholarly objectivity and generosity — although that is true. It’s also important because even when it doesn’t promote agreement, it promotes smarter politics. [Bold added.]

Am I the only one who thinks that’s really smug? They are literally calling the work of one of them “high-quality scholarship” that is “important” and “promotes smarter politics.” And the point of patting themselves on the back like this, is to then pivot and say that Nancy MacLean in her book on Buchanan is not engaged in the same type of high-quality scholarship that promotes smarter politics the way these guys do.

Not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, but I am still astounded that they wrote that.

17 Jul 2017

The Mosaic Law Put the Law Above Men

Religious 1 Comment

Leviticus 9 opens this way (bold is mine):

1On the eighth day Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel, 2and he said to Aaron, “Take for yourself a bull calf for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, both without blemish, and offer them before the LORD. 3And say to the people of Israel, ‘Take a male goat for a sin offering, and a calf and a lamb, both a year old without blemish, for a burnt offering, 4and an ox and a ram for peace offerings, to sacrifice before the LORD, and a grain offering mixed with oil, for today the LORD will appear to you.’” 5And they brought what Moses commanded in front of the tent of meeting, and all the congregation drew near and stood before the LORD. 6And Moses said, “This is the thing that the LORD commanded you to do, that the glory of the LORD may appear to you.” 7Then Moses said to Aaron, “Draw near to the altar and offer your sin offering and your burnt offering and make atonement for yourself and for the people, and bring the offering of the people and make atonement for them, as the LORD has commanded.”

8So Aaron drew near to the altar and killed the calf of the sin offering, which was for himself.

In his commentary on the Bible, David Guzik writes (and he first quotes verse 8):

a. Aaron therefore went to the altar and killed the calf of the sin offering, which was for himself: This was a display of honesty and humility before the people. Aaron, before offering a sacrifice of atonement for the people, publicly offered one for himself, identifying himself with the people. This sacrifice told the nation, “I am a sinner who needs atonement also.”

Believe me, I understand why modern secular writers argue that theocracies were ways of enhancing men’s power, by convincing the people that God (or the gods) had installed the ruler. But the implementation of the Mosaic Law certainly didn’t elevate the rulers to be “above the law.” They had to acknowledge their own sin, just as the rest of the people.

As I remarked to my study partner: Imagine if the framers of the Constitution not only put in checks and balances, but also required that the winner of a U.S. presidential election had to spend the lame duck session in federal prison, serving time for his crimes before his inauguration. That would definitely change the tone of the incoming administration.

14 Jul 2017

Three Times Interventionists Moved the Goal Posts

Climate Change, Economics, Health Legislation, Shameless Self-Promotion 12 Comments

At the Independent Institute’s blog I have 3 posts up:

One

Two

Three

 

In the third installment, make sure you don’t miss how slippery Ezra Klein was. For example:

Cass recently summarized the Oregon results for his readers by writing, “In a randomized trial in Oregon that gave some individuals Medicaid while leaving others uninsured, recipients gained no statistically significant improvement in physical health after two years.”

Cass’s language was quite precise and accurate. This is how the Oregon researchers themselves(including Jonathan Gruber) summarize their results: “In the first one to two years of coverage, Medicaid improved self-reported health and reduced depression, but had no statistically significant effect on several measures of physical health.”

And yet, Ezra Klein argued that Oren Cass was wrong in his claims about the Oregon experiment. Thus, Klein is implicitly arguing that the Oregon researchers themselves didn’t understand their results as well as Klein did. (Also note that Klein edited his original article, so now you have to scroll to the bottom to see him talking about Oren Cass.)