21 Sep 2008

Want to Feel Like God? Have Kids!

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And no, I am not at all talking about being drunk with power. On the contrary, I have never felt so helpless and non-independent (which isn’t the same as dependent) as when I am being Daddy.

But, the positive side is that it is much easier for me to imagine what it must have been like for the LORD to raise the Israelites. In the very beginning He had to lay out and enforce through physical might a million and one rules. The same is true with really young kids. You literally can’t go five minutes without correcting them, especially if you are out in public. You can’t calmly explain why it’s in their interest not to touch the oven; no you have to strictly forbid it to avoid your wrath. And if you see them running into the street, you scream your head off for them to stop.

It’s only after the children internalize these habits and rules that you can explain to them their deeper purpose. Eventually, you don’t really enforce rules. You are always there to give counsel when your kids seek it, but you realize they need to live their own lives.

This is analogous to how the LORD has gotten more and more aloof from the human race. After sending Jesus, in a sense we are adults now (spiritually / morally). It would hinder our maturity if the LORD led us as a column of fire or smoke. For Him to still treat us like that, would be akin to a parent taking a 21-year-old by the hand into an office job.

It’s true that in a sense, human beings are the same today as they were in Shakespeare’s plays, or in Greek tragedies. But in many other respects, humans today are much more civilized. Think of it this way: Each generation typically avoids the worst excesses of the preceding one. As much as the United States’ military has done horrible things in Iraq, they are nothing compared to Viet Nam. And don’t all of us resolve to be better parents than our parents were to us? And yet, haven’t you heard stories of how crazy your grandparents were to your parents? (In my case, I can push it back one step further: My great-grandfather was a nutjob. He would tell my grandfather to go out in the shed and get a tool. If my grandfather came back without it, my great-grandfather would beat him. And then he would go out and check. If he found the tool, he would beat my grandfather again.)

So what’s my point? Well, if each generation typically avoids the worst excesses of the previous one, then that means in an important sense that humans get more and more barbaric, the further back in time you go. So when we read that the LORD ordered the Israelites to slaughter foreign cities, or that He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, keep in mind that those cultures may have been inconceivably abominable from our modern perspective. We know, for example, how depraved the ancient Greeks and Romans could be. Now reflect that those were the leading cultures of their times. E.g. the same Romans who arguably invented the rule of law also put on sick public displays in their coliseum.

21 Sep 2008

Paulson Wants $700 Billion and No Stinkin Court Oversight

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This is a truly remarkable Bloomberg article outlining just how much power the single man, Henry Paulson, would achieve under the plan that–huh how bout that?–Henry Paulson invented. (HT2 Matt M.) A sample:

Through his plan, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson aims to avert a credit freeze that would bring the financial system and the world’s largest economy to a standstill. The bill would prevent courts from reviewing actions taken under its authority.

As congressional aides and officials scrutinized the proposal, the Treasury late yesterday clarified the types of assets it would purchase. Paulson would have authority to buy home loans, mortgage-backed securities, commercial mortgage- related assets and, after consultation with the Federal Reserve chairman, “other assets, as deemed necessary to effectively stabilize financial markets,” the Treasury said in a statement.

The Treasury would also have discretion, after discussions with the Fed, to make non-U.S. financial institutions eligible under the program.

The plan would raise the ceiling on the national debt and spend as much as the combined annual budgets of the Departments of Defense, Education and Health and Human Services. Paulson is asking for the power to hire asset managers and award contracts to private companies. Most provisions of the proposal expire after two years from the date of enactment.

But my favorite part is this quote from Bush, who–bless his heart–at least has pangs of cognitive dissonance from all this:

“I’m sure there are some of my friends out there that are saying, ‘I thought this guy was a market guy, what happened to him?'” the president said. “My first instinct was to let the market work, until I realized, while being briefed by the experts, how significant this problem became.”

It isn’t just your friends, Mr. President. And you should start talking to different experts.

20 Sep 2008

Chicago Prof: "Why Paulson Is Wrong"

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Luigi Zingales makes some good points (pdf) about the Paulson Plan. (HT2MR) The best part is the conclusion:

The decisions that will be made this weekend matter not just to the prospects of the U.S. economy in the year to come; they will shape the type of capitalism we will live in for the next fifty years. Do we want to live in a system where profits are private, but losses are socialized? Where taxpayer money is used to prop up failed firms? Or do we want to live in a system where people are held responsible for their decisions, where imprudent behavior is penalized and prudent behavior rewarded? For somebody like me who believes strongly in the free market system, the most serious risk of the current situation is that the interest of few financiers will undermine the fundamental workings of the capitalist system. The time has come to save capitalism from the capitalists.

19 Sep 2008

Ilana Mercer Plugs the Greatest Economics Book Ever

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…and she talks good sense on energy issues, too.

19 Sep 2008

Free Market Experts Explain Why Free Market Doesn’t Work

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Incidentally, the other thing that bothered me about CNBC today–btw I don’t own a TV, I saw all this while in Penn State–was that the timid, female commentators were honestly asking things like, “But why was this necessary? Why should taxpayers have to pick up the tab?”

Then the swaggering tough guys–with really cool silk ties that make me jealous–explained why it had to be this way. Even Stephen Moore–*sigh*–came on to the introduction of, “Now Steve, I’m as big a fan of the free market as you, but that doesn’t mean the freedom to totally collapse” or some glib excuse for repudiating their entire worldviews.

19 Sep 2008

Dumbest Quote of the Day

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So some guy on CNBC was explaining why the government had to buy up all the toxic debt. He said how there were only two major investment banks left, and that “Goldman Sachs is a symbol of market capitalism around the world. If the government had let that fail, it would have sent a strong message about the strength of our system” or something like that.

So the government has to socialize the financial sector, lest foreigners get the wrong idea about capitalism. Kinda like FDR saving capitalism, or better yet, Abe Lincoln violently suppressing secession to keep alive the experiment in self-determination.

19 Sep 2008

Bob, 21st Century; 21st Century, Bob

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For months now I have known that I “need to” get a PDA. Finally spurred by the recent loss of my cell phone (which ran on vacuum tubes), I broke down and bought a Blackberry before my Penn State trip. Let me just say: OH MY GOSH. I would have been going crazy had I not had internet access for several hours at a time during these crazy days. But now I have the CNBC Blackberry icon (not sure what the actual term for those things is). Now work can consume even more of my waking hours. Woo hoo!

19 Sep 2008

The Government Is Not Promoting Financial Stability

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The stock market is opening way way up today because of the announcement of massive government efforts to “support” financial shares. This just demonstrates that the government interventions have not been promoting “stability.”

Imagine that during normal economic times, the government started handing out hundreds of billions of dollars to various firms every few days, but that there wasn’t a discernible pattern. (I’m referring to the decision to let Lehman fail but not Bear, Fannie & Freddie, or AIG.) Moreover, investors learned that if a firm became troubled, the government might literally seize it and end up robbing the equity from common shareholders.

OK, so again, suppose we were in a normal economy and a delusional Treasury secretary started doing the above. Wouldn’t every “conservative” financial analyst decry how destabilizing these actions would be? Well, those actions are still just as destabilizing, but now we are treated to them during the midst of a financial crisis. I.e. it’s during periods of economic vulnerability that the government unleashes measures that would obviously be harmful even during times of strength.

Last observation: I have been saying for months that the government’s steadily increasing rescue attempts were prolonging the crisis, because investment banks and others with assets tied to suspect mortgages were postponing their adjustment, hoping the government would finally provide a massive bailout. And that’s exactly what happened. So those institutions performed “rationally” by trickling out the bad news and stringing their shareholders along for over a year, rather than giving a very candid disclosure 12 months ago, taking their losses, and getting on with a recovery.