24 May 2015

“The Battle Between Good and Evil” Is a Staged Conflict

Religious 33 Comments

When I was much younger, I had this idea that there was a mighty struggle between good and evil. God was (of course) leading the forces of light, while the Devil (aka Satan) was leading the forces of darkness. You would see this epic clash play out in literature and film, with secular works such as Star Wars but even with obviously Christian fiction such as Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.

But it turns out I that I was totally wrong. There were certain key events in the Bible that showed how obviously incorrect my view was, but I just didn’t have the capacity back then to take these passages at face value. Here are some examples:

==> Exodus 9: 11The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils were on the magicians as well as on all the Egyptians. 12And the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not listen to them, just as the LORD had spoken to Moses.

      13Then the LORD said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me.””


==> Job 1: “6One day the angelsa came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satanb also came with them.7The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”

8Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

9“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10“Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

12The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

==> Jeremiah 27:6: “Now I will give all your countries into the hands of my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him.”

==> 2 Chronicles 36: 22Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia—in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah—the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, 23“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up!’””

==> Isaiah 53: 9His [the Messiah’s] grave was assigned with wicked men,
         Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
         Because He had done no violence,
         Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.

10But the LORD was pleased
         To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
         If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
         He will see His offspring,
         He will prolong His days,
         And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.”


==> John 12:  “37Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.38This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

“Lord, who has believed our message

and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”h

39For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:

40He [the LORD] has blinded their eyes

and hardened their hearts,

so they can neither see with their eyes,

nor understand with their hearts,

nor turn—and I would heal them.i

Let me go again to my analogy workhorse, Star Wars. In the world of the movies, did Anakin Skywalker choose a path of evil? Yes he did. Wait, wasn’t it really his lightsaber that killed all those kids? Eh, sure, but the lightsaber didn’t have free will; it was purely an instrument in the hands of Anakin. He was the one who murdered the young Jedis in training.

Now it’s true, Anakin didn’t simply turn from a good little boy into Darth Vader on his own initiative. He was seduced by Palpatine (who would later become the Emperor). But even though Palpatine influenced Anakin, that is not the same thing as saying Anakin controlled his lightsaber. Anakin still had free will, even though he came under the spell of Palpatine.

We clearly see a battle between good and evil in Star Wars. But who is the analog of God? Is it Yoda? Nope. Is it “the Force”? Nope. It’s George Lucas. He not only creates and leads the good guys, he also creates and “leads” the bad guys. Darth Vader and the Emperor are the servants of Lucas, allowing him to tell the story so his work can fulfill its purpose. George Lucas isn’t a bad guy even though there is an obvious sense in which he killed the young Jedis in training, via his total sovereignty over the actions of Anakin Skywalker.

The same is true of God in our universe. He is in total control. We have free will, and choose to commit evil, and the Devil tempts us and tricks us into following a path that leads to our destruction. Yet, at the same time, God is in absolute control and oversees it all; everything unfolds according to His divine plan which He knew before the universe existed. God is not a sinner, even though He permits sin and has the power to stop it, and indeed incorporates sin into His plan.

At this point various Christian sects go in different directions. For example, Calvinists are pretty hardcore and go places with God’s sovereignty over Satan that even other born again Christians shy away from. (Check out this message from John Piper to see an example.) But for sure, every Bible-believing Christian acknowledged that there is no real battle between God and Satan, in the sense that it’s a nail biter and we’re not sure which side will triumph. If God had wanted to, He could have destroyed Satan in the Garden of Eden, or after the Flood, or two weeks after Jesus ascended into heaven, or… The reason Satan is still influencing our world is that God allows him to. This is nothing at all like Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, even though Aslan is a Christ figure. Aslan didn’t have the power to stop the Witch from hurting all of her victims over the years.

22 May 2015

Lord Keynes Strikes Again

Economics 132 Comments

One of the better-read thorns in my side is a guy (I assume) calling himself “Lord Keynes.” He is definitely smart, and has read a lot of economics, but he’s slick as glass and at best is Chaotic Neutral. I’m posting this exchange on the main page here because it will clear up some confusion over the utility debate, but also because LK frequently tries to trip up my commenters here with quotes from my own work. This places them in the awkward position of either defending what they thought was the Austrian orthodox position and throwing me under the bus, or of staying quiet and letting LK run victory laps. Usually (but not always) this is grossly unfair on LK’s part. I don’t know how his mind works well enough to speculate on whether that is his intention or not, but regardless, here you go…

==> In this comment, Bala wrote: “Utility is the subjective appraisement of the usefulness of a means towards end satisfaction. Nothing to do with emotions, happiness or satisfaction out there.”

==> LK licked his lips, sensing his prey had made a tragic mistake. He dug up three of my books and wrote:

Better break the sad news to Bob Murphy. Apparently he is such an idiot he thinks this:

“marginal utility: The marginal utility of a good or service is the amount of satisfaction—utility—you get when consuming one unit of it.”
Robert P. Murphy, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism, p. 18.

“We can say that individuals rank outcomes in terms of happiness, utility, satisfaction, contentment, etc.
Murphy, Robert P. Study Guide to Man, Economy, and State, p. 6.

“In praxeology, happiness (or utility, or satisfaction) is a purely formal term, defined entirely by the subjective goals of the individual actor.”
Murphy, Robert P., Study Guide to Human Action, p. 2.
Poor old Bob: doesn’t understand basic Austrian concepts.


==> OK, so what’s the deal? Is Bala totally wrong? Or is Bala right, and I’m an idiot?

Actually, it comes from using the terms “happiness” etc. in different senses. It’s easy for me to explain the distinction, all I have to do is give you the fuller quotation from my study guide to Man, Economy, and State that LK quoted from in the middle, above. Here is the fuller quote:

All action aims at exchanging a less satisfactory state of affairs for a more satisfactory state. We can say that individuals rank outcomes in terms of happiness, utility, satisfaction, contentment, etc. Regardless of the name, these terms are purely formal, and do not imply hedonism or crude Benthamite utilitarianism.

Value rankings are always ordinal, never cardinal. There is no unit of happiness or utility, and hence we can only say that a man preferred A to B; we never say he preferred A “three times as much.” — Yours Truly, Study Guide to Man, Economy, and State, p. 6

22 May 2015

Cardinal vs. Ordinal Utility

David R. Henderson, Economics, Shameless Self-Promotion 41 Comments

Uh oh, it’s David R. Henderson and me vs. Tyler Cowen and David Friedman. How do you rank the gladiators? An excerpt:

There has been a flareup in free-market economist circles over the issue of “interpersonal utility comparisons.” First scrooge mcduckTyler Cowen wrote a post that took it for granted that a rich man got less utility from an extra dollar than a poor man did (although Cowen didn’t think that justified government redistribution by itself). In response, David R. Henderson expressed puzzlement that Cowen overlooked the fact that such an interpersonal utility comparison (IUC) was nonsense, because utility is an ordinal concept. Then a bunch of people,including David Friedman, jumped into the fray, claiming that Henderson was outdated because von Neumann and Morgenstern had shown how we could in fact construct cardinal, not ordinal, utility functions.

In the present blog post I’ll hit the key points in this dispute. To cut to the chase, I agree with David R. Henderson: The way economists use the term, “utility” is an ordinal concept, which expresses a subjective ranking, not an objective measurement. Therefore it makes no sense to say Jim gets more or fewer utils than Sally. Furthermore, the work of von Neumann and Morgenstern does not alter this basic fact: Whether we “believe in” cardinal utility has nothing to do with their demonstrations.

20 May 2015

The Failure of Krugman’s Empirical Model

Krugman, Shameless Self-Promotion 12 Comments

My latest at FEE. Here’s the opening:

One of the running themes throughout Paul Krugman’s public commentary since 2009 is that his Keynesian model — specifically, the old IS-LM framework — has done “spectacularly well” in predicting the major trends in the economy. Krugman actually claimed at one point that he and his allies had been “right about everything.” In contrast, Krugman claims, his opponents have been “wrong about everything.”

As I’ll show, Krugman’s macro predictions have been wrong in three key areas. So, by his own criterion of academic truth, Krugman’s framework has been a failure, and he should consider it a shame that people still seek out his opinion.

19 May 2015

Latest Video From Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics

All Posts 10 Comments

19 May 2015


Potpourri 42 Comments

==> Richard Ebeling is not a fan of stimulus spending.

==> A funny comic on physics envy.

==> Remember everyone, I only troll Steve Landsburg because I care.

==> I am the prosecutor putting the Fed on (mock) trial at FreedomFest this year.

==> Rob Bradley on Ken Green’s road to conversion on the carbon tax issue.

==> Zach Slayback has been writing on “The Remnant” as an alternative to “the movement” philosophy.

18 May 2015

Upcoming UN Paris Climate Meetings Open Up Gravy Train

Climate Change, Shameless Self-Promotion 12 Comments

My latest at IER. An excerpt:

In this post I’ll focus specifically on the enormous wealth transfers from rich to poor countries that are being proposed in the draft—as high as annual transfers in excess of $100 billion from the United States alone, according to some of the language. To be sure, at this stage these ludicrous suggestions are merely a “wish list,” but average Americans should realize just how much of their money will be on the buffet line when the UN delegates meet in December. In November President Obama already pledged $3 billion for such efforts, and the new UN proposal shows how much more the most zealous advocates have in mind.

14 May 2015

How the Bankers Arranged for a Stream of Billions in Subsidies

Federal Reserve 65 Comments

I have not seen too many people comment on this; here’s one guy mentioning it last August. The punchline is that amongst other favors, private bankers have managed to use the financial crisis such that they now receive a stream of billions of dollars in income from the Federal Reserve. Moreover, this amount could rise substantially over the coming years.

The banks now receive “interest on reserves” from the Fed, a policy that was instituted back in October 2008. This means that when a bank keeps its reserves parked with the Fed, then it will be paid interest on them; this didn’t happen before October 2008. There are various ways to describe this policy, but one accurate way is to say at this point the Fed began paying banks to not make loans to their customers. The rate is currently a measly 25 basis points (0.25%), but it is expected to increase in the near future.

Specifically, the Fed has said that if and when it begins raising interest rates (probably later this year), it will not follow the textbook approach of selling off assets from its balance sheet, and thereby draining reserves from the system. On the contrary, the Fed will raise interest rates by increasing the amount the Fed itself pays to bankers, to keep their money parked at the Fed. For example, if the Fed wants the short-term rate (what’s called the “federal funds rate”) to rise to 1 percent, then the Fed will increase the amount it pays to banks for their reserves (perhaps to a bit less than 1 percent). If the banks can earn a guaranteed 1 percent from the Fed, then they would never lend their reserves to anybody else–even each other–for less than that.

One implication of this plan is that the Fed will be on the hook for funneling huge amounts directly to the banks. These wouldn’t be loans, these would be interest payments–direct income for the banks. Right now excess reserves are about $2.4 trillion. Assuming this is the ballpark for the next year or two, and that the Fed eventually raises its target rate to 3 percent, that would involve annual interest payments of $2.4 trillion x 3% = $72 billion.

Notice that this is effectively coming right from the taxpayers, in the sense that the Fed has been remitting its excess earnings to the Treasury, making the federal budget deficit lower than it otherwise would be. So, other things equal, if the Fed pays bankers $72 billion annually to not make loans to their customers, then that is effectively coming from the taxpayers.

I daresay before the crisis, if any banker had proposed such a scheme, that it would not have met with the public’s approval.