10 Rules: How Closed Minds Become Closed Borders

It is my intention to provide my readers with a very valuable and unique service.  I am a voracious reader and it is my special talent to distill complex subjects down to their simplest parts and principles (if indeed such principles exist).  Much of what is written, past and present, is intentionally obfuscated for political purposes or dishonest gain, whether of the material, intellectual, or emotional varieties.  It is designed to misinform or mislead.  Even when the ideas are simply muddle-headed rather than intentionally disingenuous, there is rarely an understanding of where those ideas originated, or historical consequences of their application.   These observations are particularly applicable to political discussions, but are not uncommon in virtually any serious discourse.

I am driven to know what is.  I grew up in an intellectually closed society, as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I left that religious organization in mid-life only to find a whole smorgasbord of other closed societies, whether religious, philosophical, political, or social.  There is a vehemence and even fierceness of advocacy that inhibits civil conversation and betrays intolerance of different life experiences and conclusions.  What is most remarkable about all of these is that either side in any of these debates would passionately agree with my observations herewith stated, but only find them applicable to the attitudes and behavior of those with an opposing viewpoint!

As the polemicists outshout each other in the vain belief that raising the volume of their cranky bombast is the key to recruiting you to the cause or the sale, regard for evidence, logic, scientific method, clarity, and other calm pursuits are left behind like abandoned children.   Defense of our own position usually trumps all other considerations without any awareness whatsoever of the road by which we arrived at our convictions.  My most important takeaway from my own life-altering experience  is that I am the bouncer and doorman to my own mind, and I have sole discretion over what is permitted to enter.  I am the final arbiter of what I accept, because I become what I ingest intellectually.   This is a personal responsibility that I cannot delegate to any other person, institution, or authority. In my opinion, every one of my readers shares this same responsibility for themselves, for the same reasons and with the same rewards. Bitterness and anger about years wasted in misguided belief and defiance of reality are efforts to transfer responsibility for our own past choices onto others, but in every case it was we who negligently invited strangers, in the form of ideas, into our mind unidentified and unchallenged.  Even when we absorb faulty premises in our age of innocence, responsibility to identify and correct these later in life cannot be avoided with impunity.

I frequently include book reviews on this blog, on a broad range of subjects.  All of these book reviews are at least somewhat positive in nature, because I do not waste my readers time on books that are in my opinion without at least some important redeeming values.  I am neither Democrat nor Republican, neither liberal nor conservative, and these days, once you get past the rhetoric, it can be said their distinctions are often without differences.  I have no ideology except the value of the individual human being. Each of us is a minority of one.  Regardless of the comfort we find in each other, there is no collective brain.  Descartes famously said “I think, therefore I am.” What we think determines what we become.

I want to share some rules of the road from my personal experience.

When I was growing up, my parents taught me to eat everything on my plate at meal times.  It was axiomatic that to waste food was wrong, even though our young minds rarely grasped the contradiction in the fact that we didn’t overload the plate with all that food, the grown-ups did.  How could we possibly know that for the rest of our lives other BIG PEOPLE would be filling up our intellectual plates with the impassioned ideas, ephemeral notions, and absolute certainties they insisted we must ingest because it is “good for us.”  As in childhood, we trust the source, the same one we associated with survival itself.

Rule #1 :   The purpose of all propaganda is to become your “trusted source.” Read more..

Everyone, it seems, has the strongest notions of what is best for us, beginning with our immediate families and extending to all the institutions of our culture.  What is accepted and practiced in one generation may be repudiated by future generations.  The philosophy that someone else knows what is best for us is nothing more than delegating to strangers what gets put on our plate.  It makes no difference whether this authority figure or expert comes in the guise of clergy, government, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, media talking heads or television and movie script writers; all of them provide us with generous helpings of their opinions and rules and they expect us to eat it, even if it gives us heartburn.  They do not like to be ignored, and most of them are happy, if given the opportunity, to harness the coercive power of the state to enforce what they know is, if not for our own good, at least for the good of the greatest number.  After all, Daddy knows best.

Everything is based on core premises, and unfortunately these are usually absorbed unconsciously from the Influential People of our childhood and adolescence, parents, teachers, news media, friends, and church.

Rule #2:  At a tender age we are neither equipped nor qualified to evaluate  conceptual content, and we know little or nothing about possible  alternatives. 

Content becomes indelibly associated with the persons and institutions of authority that deliver it.  Because of this early childhood association between content and source, we begin to develop class distinctions based on these associations.  We are more inclined to trust and believe those who dress like we do, worship as we do, get educated where we do, and who earn their living as we do.  At the most mundane level it is often said that the best place for a young man to pick up a date is at a church wedding, because he benefits by association with the joy of the occasion and the trust placed in that institution by its members. A “no” response in a different context might become a “yes” at the wedding.

Rule #3:  As children, content becomes truth when it is delivered by those on whom we depend to survive.

Once imbibed, these childhood-acquired core premises become unchallengeable, eternal truths, the template against which all new information is evaluated.  We quickly learn to block dissonance, any new information that makes us uncomfortable.  As we build the rest of our lives around these core premises, our emotional investment in them becomes such that a challenge to their veracity becomes a challenge to our identity.  There is a crushing need to shut down, shut out, and utterly annihilate such threats, and this need is all the more powerful and insidious because it is experienced subconsciously, as in dis-ease.  We experience anxiety without knowing the cause. 

When you experience something that disturbs you, it may or may not mean it is bad for you.  A bad taste in your mouth may mean a poison mushroom, or it may only mean conflict with the taste of the previous mouthful, in which case you need to cleanse your palate before proceeding.  A mouthful of lemon juice may cure you of scurvy, but it could be intensely unpleasant right after eating a sweet.  Likewise you may have been led to believe that very wise people are looking out for your welfare, and this goes down pleasantly, like a sugar cookie.  You might have had great faith in the honest intentions and competence of Bernie Madoff in handling your life savings, or you may currently be planning an extended retirement on Social Security and Medicare as they currently exist, and it tastes sweet.

Rule #4:  What feels safe and tastes good may be the prelude to the financial equivalent of a diabetic coma.

In every case, we always trusted the source.  The doorman to our mind was sound asleep.  There were red flags about what we believed, but we chose to ignore them.

That’s why I write about labels.  I sit down to lunch with people of all stripes and within minutes I can hear, and feel, the palpable hatred as my temporary companions launch into diatribes about those who think differently than they do.  The emotional intensity and intransigence derives from the speaker’s sense of certainty.  A mere label such as the name of a political party, or particular belief or non-belief excites the passions and invites the derision of the group at the table.  To belong is to share in the laughter.  The opposite is equally true and commonplace; the willingness to blithely accept nonsense if it comes from a trusted source.  We will defend what we have already emotionally invested in.

Rule #5:  It is possible to have a lifetime investment in something that is indefensible by any rational standard.  

How long have we known, and has our government refused to acknowledge, that our Social Security is history’s largest Ponzi scheme ever?

I used to finish reading any book I had started.  Like cleaning my plate at dinner, I felt compelled to finish what I had started.  I don’t always do this anymore.  Life is too short.  I always seek to identify as quickly as possible  authors’ basic premises, and even if I disagree with them, I may continue reading if only because I enjoy the writing style or because an author occasionally drops in a redeeming original thought or new twist on something.  I no longer waste my time filling my mind with garbage, but there is a balance between that and closing one’s mind.  Periodically I have to remind myself to re-evaluate my own core premises to see if they still withstand close scrutiny.  The final questions are always, Who says so? Why?  Based on what?  I am always on the alert for the hidden agenda, the sugar-coated dodge.

If some distinguished authority figure makes claims that appear improbable and  unsubstantiated by the facts as you know them, assuming they know more than you is one possibility.  Another possibility is that they have reasons to be less than truthful on this occasion.

If their explanations more accurately resemble circumlocutions, going round and round in circles and making no particular sense, you could assume that their explanation is too deep for your comprehension, given their special training, or you could also entertain the possibility that their non-answer is because they really don’t have an answer but won’t admit it publicly.

How do you spot obfuscations, disinformation, and hidden agendas?    For starters, unless you’ve taken a serious course in statistics, distrust all statistics.  Most are not scientifically sound and are intentionally manipulated for uninformed public consumption.  I could say there are a thousand ways to do this, but that would not be a scientifically sound statistic.  So we’ll move on.  In commercial matters, follow the money.  In political and institutional matters, follow the power.  Look past the easy answers.  Look past the obvious beneficiaries of a particular group action.  The secondary beneficiary is always the real beneficiary.  The primary beneficiaries receive very diffused benefits.  They are the poster children of the much ballyhooed political action; the orphans, the poor, the children, the unemployed, the elderly, the American middle class, the racial minorities.   The secondary beneficiary receives very consolidated power;  the power to bestow or withhold.   Daddy isn’t interested in your growing up.  Daddy needs you to need him.  Daddy needs to be in control of permissions, punishments and perks.

Rule #6:  If someone is selling invisible clothes, let them run around naked.  

It is better to be underwhelmed by the titles and decorations and positions of power of the so-called experts.  Who even remembers yesteryear’s Nobel prize winners and Treasury Secretaries or Fed Chairmen?  If anyone makes claims that to your mind seem like the Emperor’s invisible clothes, let them wear them.  Plan your personal life and make your financial choices around your own perceptions, not theirs.  They will usually have agendas you will never know about, and disincentives to provide full disclosure or tell the unvarnished truth.  Do they really know better than you how to direct your life?  Most American households’ finances are looking better than the governments, perhaps for no other reason than we can’t print money like the government  does.  We have been acting to correct our balance sheets, to start saving and stop borrowing.  Does that sound like what they have been doing?  Do they care about you, or are they far more concerned about polishing their credentials to the largest blocks of voters?  This goes for anyone who is offering you advice on any subject.  Would you look to the Dalai Lama for guidance on improving your sex life, knowing he is a celibate monk?

In the end it’s the same.  Money is power.  But government is money plus guns.  By guns I mean the police power of the state.  With guns you can seize other people’s money.  If you get enough people behind you, even in a democracy you can decide whose money you will take, and how much of it.  This is REAL power, and this is why groups will spend a billion dollars to secure a position of power that pays only half a million.  The most expensive seats are reserved for those who hold court, who trade in favors and gifts, and who choose the winners and the losers.  These people are not producers; they are looters who talk as if they understand production.

All ideas have a history, and if you follow the thread of an idea back far enough, there are always surprises.  Every opinion, belief, and conviction—indeed every certainty, was arrived at in a certain historical and social context, and made perfect sense to those persons in their place and time, and was almost invariably the partial result of emotional turmoil in the author’s personal life.  In other words, intellectuals, philosophers, clergymen, or brick layers, we are all made of the same dirt.  Ideas all began with real people and every single one of them had problems, issues, and emotional dilemmas.  Some of them were morons.

Rule #7:  Many of the world’s greatest thinkers would be in therapy today.

Ideological sparks at the intersection of the right time and the right population periodically ignited the imagination of masses.   New truths became eternal truths that have often reversed themselves, sometimes over and over again, everyone so preoccupied with the minutiae of their daily routines they fail to notice the intellectual roundabout on which they have traveled for decades or centuries.    The grand ideas  have all come and gone, or splintered and evolved in almost unrecognizable ways, becoming innumerable dogmas and orthodoxies,  and today they make compelling narrative for the history or philosophy buff.  Those who take the time to look more closely are sobered by the awareness that in every time period of history there were those who were willing and eager to kill or enslave those who disagreed with them.    Our current democratic society provides some cultural and legal protections against this, but a basic meanness still often lurks beneath the surface of many human believers.  I hear it in conversations at lunch.

Rule #8:  There’s a troll under many a believer’s bridge.

When belief devoid of thought is extolled as a virtue, doubt becomes suspect, opposing opinions are demonized, dissenters are criminalized, and definitions of the enemy are crystalized.  Hatred is born and mob action is galvanized.  Ascendant mobs become the state. Other groups see opportunities to advance their respective causes by hitchhiking on the coattails of the rising group, with the idea that they will address their important differences after they achieve a more favorable situation in the power structure.   The state attempts to co-opt and harness culturally powerful forces (the most powerful of which is religion) and then moves to consolidate its power by weakening, neutering,  and eliminating competing groups.  There are no enduring loyalties, just the shifting sands of temporarily overlapping interests.

This is why I champion individual rights in my writing.  The individual is the smallest group in the world.  Protect individual rights and you protect the world.  Democracies are the competition and conflict between groups, but history is replete with the horrors perpetrated by one group (even elected ones) on other groups.  Great evil has been done repeatedly in the name of God or in the name of Society.  Even in a so-called free society there is nothing more fear-inspiring than observing an impassioned closed mind reflected in the eyes of another human being, so certain of his ideas in fact, that he will gladly sacrifice your life to prove it.  On their own, they are dangerous and capable of atrocities; organized into groups with their hands on the levers of power (duly elected or not), no one is safe.  Not even the members of their group.  Every group has its purges.

There IS a problem with championing individual rights.  It puts responsibility on the individual.  There is uncertainty, and results are neither equal nor guaranteed.  What is guaranteed is that no group can by itself or backed by the power of the state, make you do or be what you do not believe in.  And you can’t do that to anyone else either.  Not everyone is comfortable with that.

Individual rights are inalienable, meaning you were born with them and do not acquire them by permission from others–no one and no group can morally take them from you, even when those others are infused with certainty about their better idea.   They may seize your property and take your life by force, but they can never do so morally.  Individual rights mean the right to pursue your own life and happiness as your highest values, and you are free to seek and perform work that sustains those values.  This includes buying and selling from whomever you choose, to your own benefit.  Individual rights means essentially the separation of church and state and the separation of economic activity and state.

Individual rights mean the government is there to protect  individual rights of all, and no one is there to serve the government.  Individual rights in practice, of necessity mean small government because there just isn’t that much the government needs to do.  No modern state, including western democracies, will ever pay more than lip service to government based on the sovereignty of the individual because all governments derive their power from the purse, which includes both confiscatory taxation and gross interference with free trade of its citizens.  The power of government is in granting permissions.  That’s where the money is.

Rule #9:  The government’s favorite childhood game is “Mother, May I?”

You can recognize individual rights in action when your government fears to transgress against its citizens.  

Group rights, on the other hand, are acquired by permission from a majority of others in society, and those permissions can be revoked.  The herd sometimes gives little or no notice of intent to stampede.  The primacy of group rights derives from the belief that your highest value as an individual  is not yourself but your contribution to society as a whole.  Individuals can  expect to be sacrificed to the group when the group calls for it. Every single favor demanded of  government by a group always implies a request for the police power of the state to be used against someone else  who doesn’t want to do the group’s  bidding.  Otherwise, if the group could achieve its ends on a voluntary basis, arrived at through negotiation, documented and signed by the parties, why would they need to involve the state?  Groups only need the state to club minority interests into submission.   I use the word minority here in the very literal sense of anyone who does not have sufficient votes to protect their interests. Group rights are the inevitable political legacy of those obsessed with the certainty of their beliefs, so much so that in their minds the ends justify their means.  Sooner or later the means include the confiscation of human life and property by the state–for the benefit of the greater good, of course.  Group rights degrade into group warfare and lead to an indefinitely expanding state, with eventually the state dwarfing all other groups.

Group rights lead to totalitarianism, which is sanctioned and even welcomed by the public in the name of efficiency.  When the cacophony of bitterly opposed groups gets too rancorous and the machinery of the state grinds down, someone with the necessary stage presence steps forward and suggests temporary consolidation of power to get through the political impasse.  We all know the rest of that story.

You can tell group rights in action when citizens fear their government.

So what is my point?  Am I advocating political activism in favor of limited government and individual rights?  Not really.  You can, of course, if you want to.  All I am encouraging is to become aware of what is happening around you, and to be aware of the ideas behind the events.  Keep your finger on the pulse of the politics in your community, your state, your nation.  Be more careful what you believe in, and scrutinize documentation with a critical eye.  In almost every location it is possible to exercise a great deal of personal freedom as long as you don’t make too much fanfare about it.  Love your life, keep your mind open and your passport current, and

Rule #10:   Know where the border is.

Closed minds eventually become closed borders.


Why Voltaire?

If you have been following this blogsite, you are aware that it is in a state of renovation under the theme of The New Voltaire.  The revised graphics and other technical goodies are coming.  But much more importantly, I would like to address the question, why Voltaire?

Growing up, Voltaire was one of my heroes.  He still is.  His real name was Francois Arouet.  Voltaire was his pen name.  He had a very strict religious upbringing.  So did I.  He eventually left the church, and became its outspoken critic.  So have I.  He was a writer, a dramatist, playwright; he wrote biographies, histories, books on science.  While my meager offerings pale in comparison with the productivity of this 18th century prodigy, I also am a writer, including non-fiction books, literary economic commentary, and on matters of financial, historical, social, and political interest for today’s non-aligned and non-ideological seekers.

Most of what Voltaire wrote was banned during his lifetime, and therefore he often wrote anonymously.  I also write some things anonymously, as a ghost writer for others whose names adorn my work as the “authors” of record.  In my case, I do this not as protection from a coercive State (at least not yet), but as an artist whose work is commissioned and paid for by my clients.  In other words, it’s called making a living.

Voltaire evidently did not subscribe to the Platonic split of humans into an upper and lower self, a spiritual and material self, and he saw no reason to eschew the material comforts in life.  He was neither stoic nor monastic in search of his higher self.  He held no highbrow distinctions between the sciences, the arts, and the world of business and trade, and he applied himself equally assiduously and successfully to all of them.  This aspect of his character resonates with me, because all my life I have been a writer, but for 35 of those adult years I was a businessman for the simple reason that it provided for my financial needs and aspirations less tentatively than a writing career might have.  Or so I thought. Read more..

Voltaire wrote 56 plays, as well as countless other stories, novels, epic poetry, and what we would today call scientific “white papers”, book reviews, and over 20,000 letters.   But that didn’t prevent him from becoming a successful investor, bond, commodity, and currency trader, and becoming a millionaire by the time he was 40.  With his books banned, he relied on his business income for his lifestyle.

He was a champion of individual freedom, was imprisoned twice in the infamous Paris prison, La Bastille, and both the government of France and the Church were the targets of his rapier wit and excoriation.  He was beaten in the streets by hired thugs while an aristocrat watched from his coach.  He knew the importance of having cash on hand and living close to the border in the event that a hasty exit became necessary.  Voltaire lived in a time and place where the rule of law was arbitrary and capricious and its implementation often viciously politically motivated by those whose primary preoccupation was with the extension of their privilege and power over the masses.  So many laws were being made that virtually anyone could be construed as guilty, and their property could be confiscated by the State, and their life made forfeit.  Interestingly, the finances of the State were in such chaos, that in 1764 a law was passed forbidding publication of any criticisms of the finances of the State.  My oh my, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Much of what Voltaire wrote was set in the context of countries other than his native France, making it somewhat more difficult for his censors to claim that he was criticizing his own government.  Most of what he wrote was published and distributed outside of France for the same reason.

Last but not least, I am forever impressed with Voltaire’s taste in women.  He met Emilie, the Marquise du Chatelet,  in 1733, and eventually moved into the Chateau de Cirey owned by the Marquise’s husband, the Marquis du Chatelet.  Emilie’s marriage to the Marquis was one of convenience, and husband and wife led separate lives and each took lovers.  The Marquis was a military man, and a hunter, whereas Emilie was a genius in her own right, an intellectual worthy of the term.  By the age of twelve she could read, write, and speak fluent German, Latin, and Greek (bear in mind that her mother tongue was French) and she continued on to take private lessons in geometry, algebra, calculus, and physics; she spent her fifteen years with Voltaire studying mathematics, the sciences, philosophy, and metaphysics.  Like Voltaire, she was no ascetic seeking absolution or approval by a life of self-denial; she loved her extensive wardrobe, shoes, and diamonds, sang opera and performed as an amateur actress.  With no taste for gossip and small talk, she had few female friends and intimidated most men.  She met her match in Voltaire, and they were together until she died.

Voltaire was one of the intellectual giants of history, one of the few who defied the orthodoxy of his time and moved the world forward.  Voltaire was a contributor to the Encyclopedie, one of the primary French philosophical contributions to the Enlightenment.  He stood head and shoulders with his contemporaries, John Locke and Sir Isaac Newton.  He was a major intellectual influence on the founding fathers of the great American political experiment, the creation of a republic, the first of its kind in the world,  that championed individual rights as inalienable, and therefore not granted by the State. 

Voltaire’s father disapproved of his son’s choice of vocation; he kept telling him he couldn’t earn a living as a writer.

In today’s world where the omnipotent State is on the march as never before and liberty is perpetually in retreat, the voice of Voltaire needs to be heard, revived, and amplified.  This call needs to be taken up by anyone with a voice, a keyboard, and most of all, a good mind and the courage to use it.  But like Voltaire, do not live just to save the world; learn to love your own life and live in this world.  Keep your sense of humor, keep some cash on hand and remember where the border is.

The Gods Among Us

In the beginning there was Money.  Well, not exactly.  There was barter.  There was a high degree of vertical integration, which is a fancy way of saying if you wanted something back then, it was pretty much up to you to grow it or make it yourself.  What trade existed was largely between members of the tribe or village or group.  If some guy made a pretty cool hunting knife, and his wife was nagging him for a deer to butcher and eat, a trade of the knife for the deer (or parts of it) might take place.  Trading was simple, uncomplicated, and very very slow.  Life was brutal and short.  At the end of the day, when you had run out of you, you had also run out of future.  You aged quickly and died young.  When groups of nomads found a place to their liking, they sometimes stayed, settled in, and became agrarian.  Society became more complex, and slightly greater specialization of labor became possible.  One family could grow things from the soil; another could domesticate animals as a source of meat.  There was still no Money.

Trading in this primitive context was still taking place among the so-called Indians on this North American continent when the first Europeans arrived.  The native Americans were fascinated with some of the baubles brought over by the Europeans and willingly traded furs for them.  Eventually some commodities became so commonplace and essential to daily life in primitive societies that they took on new importance as a means of facilitating trade.  Salt, because it was needed by everyone for daily purposes, came to assume more importance as a form of “money” than it formerly had as just salt.  Since everyone had salt, and used salt, goods and services were traded using salt as the store of value and medium of exchange between trading partners.  The same was true of other things of universal value, including furs.  Because of their prized ornamental value and scarcity, gold and silver  became universally accepted as Money. 

The term store of value is very important.  Without some universally accepted warehouse of value that had been produced, all exchange was limited to what could be immediately produced and immediately consumed.  No long term planning was possible, and without long term planning, the Industrial Revolution with its complex machines and processes was impossible.  Modern society was impossible.  The invention of Money was a prerequisite to all the amenities of life as we know it.  Without the invention of Money, we would all still be primitives.  In spite of Rousseau’s idealization of the Noble Savage, the Garden of Eden it was not.  Man was the victim of ignorance, superstition, disease, and unmitigated natural disaster the likes of which are only occasionally experienced today in the poorest parts of the world.

In primitive society, wealth was limited to whatever a person could produce in a day, or a month, or a year of his own individual effort.  All other wealth was acquired by confiscating the values produced by others at the point of a spear, or in time, at the end of a gun.  All great monuments of history were made possible by the confiscation, not only of others wealth, including their grain, their herds, their tools, but also the confiscation of the people themselves, physically.  People became property, to be used and exploited by their conquerors.  When Rome was starving because of crop failure, their solution was to conquer Egypt with their legions, make that part of North Africa a vassal state and require them to ship their grain to Rome at prices Rome dictated.  You might say that Rome “nationalized” Egypt;  Cleopatra, in name at least, still “owned” the means of production, but the prices were dictated by Rome, her Master.  For a while, she was able to continue her pretense of being in charge of her country, of being Queen.  Then one day Caesar extended an invitation she could not refuse:  to come to Rome to visit, as his “guest”.  The dress code for the event was a little intimidating–naked, in shackles, to be paraded as the spoils of war through the crowds of Roman rabble and oglers, the nobility and the great unwashed.  Cleopatra committed suicide.

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Rome, of course, did not invent slavery.  Man was a part of Nature, and you took what you wanted, if you could.  You formed groups and tribes for this purpose, for there was greater safety and strength in those groups and tribes.  There was no concept of the individual or individual rights; you were a member of your group, and your survival depended on that group.  If your group won, you confiscated the property of your rivals, including his children and women.  Anyone you had no use for, such as the old or the sick or the dangerous, you killed.  And of course, if your enemies prevailed, you shared the same fate. 

If you were successively victorious, you celebrated by building temples to the gods who had blessed you, or you worshipped the gods among you  Of course you also built monuments and palaces to your leaders and warriors, as totems to their greatness.  And if your civilization succumbed to a rival some time later, your enemy sat on your thrones and lived in your palaces that they acquired the same way you did–by force.  You supplicated your gods and you placated your gods, and you worshipped and obeyed your kings and princes as gods themselves, or the sons of the gods, or the direct representatives of the gods.  And sometimes the Great Leaders and Warriors had to share the power in an uneasy alliance with the Priests and Shamans who controlled and manipulated the fears and superstitions of the human herd, who provided opaque and inscrutable explanations for why things sometimes went wrong, who demanded sacrifices for the gods of both this world and the next.  It reminds us somewhat of the chief economists and central bankers  ‘divining  the liver’ of the economy, reading the stars, making their prognostications and gobbledygook commentary about what it all means, and who also require sacrifices so that the gods may be propitiated.

There were two ways to acquire wealth; the tedious, slow way of trading successfully with others, or the riskier but faster way–to seize what others already had.  You could do this as a petty murderer; or as a tribal leader, a mass murderer if the occasion demanded it.  You could enslave others, or you could be enslaved by others.  The spoils went to the winner.  For those who chose the route of peaceful and voluntary trade with others, the advent of Money was an organic process that developed naturally as a more efficient way to trade.  It expanded the possibilities of what could be traded, as Money was a way to store value.  Money was a symbol of value that had been created and was warehoused somewhere else.  If on the other hand, you were a Ruler, Money facilitated the confiscation of the wealth of your subjects.  As a Ruler, you saw Money as nothing more than an extension of your right to plunder your subjects; if you insisted that your subjects pay their taxes to you in salt, or grain, or gold, you didn’t care what medium of exchange they used among themselves, as long as you controlled the form in which they paid you.  This became your Treasury.

As the Ruler, what did you need a Treasury for?  Well, your subjects didn’t always have the products or skills to do what you wanted.  So you had to bring people and products in from other places, and to do this you had to trade with them.  You could force your own subjects to engage in slave labor, but you could not do so with others outside your domain, for most likely they belonged to another Ruler, another Tyrant.  They were his property, not yours.  If the other people were accustomed to gold as a means of exchange, as you were, trading was simple.  If they did not use gold, trade quickly got more complicated.  Now there were two forms of money, your gold and whatever they were using.  A rate of exchange had to be negotiated.  If they were using salt, then you had to establish how much salt was equal to an ounce of gold.  Your joint answer to this question would become your exchange rate between two kinds of money.

You also need a Treasury to finance your wars.  You may have had your own troops, but many, if not most wars were fought with soldiers-for-hire, mercenaries.  Either way, they had to be paid.  If soldiers didn’t get paid, they and their families didn’t eat, and when people don’t eat, they get deeply unhappy.  Unpaid soldiers have a nasty habit of slipping away in the night and disappearing.  So they had to be paid, with Money that would be recognized and accepted by others with whom the soldiers would want to trade.  In ancient societies, soldiers were paid in coin.  When the Treasury of the Ruler was low, he would order his minions to shave slivers of metal off the coins, then melt the shavings down to forge new coins.  The coins of the realm tended to get smaller and smaller and people would notice and feel they were being defrauded.  And of course, they were.  By the Ruler, who was trying to expand his Money supply the only way he knew how.  When Rulers figured out alloys, they would instruct their keepers of the Treasury to mix base metals with the precious metal, again in an effort to take the existing amount of gold or silver and make it go farther by cheapening it.  When people felt they were being cheated, they demanded additional coins in payment to make up for the parts shaved off, or the new alloy coins.  They started making etched ridges along the circumference of the coins, so that if any shaving of the edges was attempted, they would know it because the ridges would be missing.  All through history people everywhere showed a basic desire to keep what was theirs, and all through history they tended to distrust their Rulers intentions with their money.  And with good reason.  The Rulers treatment of their Money was the equivalent of a cheating pair of scales.

Over the millenia, nothing has really changed very much.  With the advent of the printing press, it became a lot easier to steal from one’s subjects.  Until shortly after World War I, the currencies of the world’s governments continued to be pegged to gold as a means to facilitate trade between nations on an objective standard.  Because the rest of the modern world had been decimated by the ravages of what had come to be known as The Great War, the American dollar had become the currency of the world; in other words everyone was willing to be paid in American greenbacks because it was agreed that those dollars could be redeemed in gold on request from the American Federal Reserve, our central bank.  Because there was a steady loss of gold over the years from the American Treasury, President Nixon unilaterally decided to take the American dollar off the gold standard in 1971.  Confidence in the American dollar was waning, and foreigners wanted the gold instead.  Well, no more.  The Law of Unintended Consequences prevailed, as always.  In today’s world, when foreign governments acquire larger quantities of another nation’s currency than they are comfortable with, they sell the undesired currency on world markets.  You see, paper money, like gold, oil, cotton, grain, or cattle, can be sold in markets created specially for the purpose.  Currency is bought and sold on what is called a Foreign Exchange market, or FOREX for short.  Well, after Nixon took us off the gold standard, foreign governments rushed to get rid of their dollars by dumping them on the world market, exchanging dollars for other currencies then considered more valuable.  When there are more sellers than there are buyers, the price of a commodity goes down.  The dollar is a commodity, and the price of the dollar went down.  Now let’s make this next connection in a flying intuitive leap:  A paper dollar unattached to an objective gold standard has no value in and of itself.  It represents only the faith of the people who use it.  When it is obvious that governments are trying to unload a lot of dollars, it quickly erodes people’s confidence in that dollar.  When the confidence in the value of the dollar goes down, what the dollar is able to purchase goes down also.  When it takes more dollars to purchase the same item than it used to, you have inflation.  The same thing has happened as when an ancient Ruler mixed other metals with gold in order to create more of it.  The purchasing power of the unit of currency goes down when people don’t trust it; so they want more of it in payment than they used to.  Prices go up.  If you have the same quantity of a currency as you had before, but the purchasing power of that currency has done down, you have just become poorer, as surely as if someone had robbed you during the night.

When Rulers, or governments, for whatever reason, add to their Money supply, you have more money chasing the same goods, which means the purchasing power of the unit of currency goes down, which is just another way of saying the price went up.  The price is nothing more than how many units of currency are required to purchase an item, any item.

The American consumer nation became an empire of debt in order to pay for all the goodies it imported from foreign nations.  America paid those nations in dollars, and by 2001 almost 80% of all dollars in existence were held by foreigners according to Bonner and Wiggin in Financial Reckoning Day Fallout.  Under normal circumstances foreigners can get rid of dollars by buying American goods in return, and this keeps foreign currencies in balance.  That didn’t work because we were importing way more than we were exporting, so the imbalance grew.  Foreigners could have once again dumped their excess dollars on the foreign exchange market, which would have driven the value of the dollar down, which would have made foreign goods more expensive, and our exports cheaper.  That would have reduced demand for foreign goods, and reduced their sales to us.  They wanted to keep their factories going at full production, and that meant continuing to sell to America at maximum levels.  So instead, what did the foreigners holding excess dollars decide to do?  They decided to get rid of those dollars by buying up American assets, including businesses, real estate, and financial investments.

But the plot thickens.  At about the turn of the millenium, America was in the throes of a recession.  The Federal Reserve, determined to make this go away, decided to make credit cheaper by lowering interest rates to unheard of levels.  They wanted Americans to buy, and they figured the best way to do this was to make money cheap.  Cheap credit, combined with government incentives to lenders to make residential mortgages available to people unlikely to pay those mortgages, resulted in a lot of toxic mortgages out there.  Because money was cheap and easy, demand for residential real estate went through the roof, and that of course, caused the prices for that real estate to go through the roof as well.  So prices of real estate are spiraling up, money continues to be cheap and easy, there are a flood of unworthy mortgages.  Now for the rest of the story.  The flip side of cheap money is that lenders, who make their profits off of interest they charge, now have sharply reduced profit margins because their product, money, is too cheap!  They are practically giving it away!  What to do?  Simple:  slice and dice these toxic mortgages that everyone knows are going to result in default by the borrowers, repackage them, take them off the lenders hands, and sell them to ????  Why the foreigners who are holding more dollars than they know what to do with, and let them buy them at outrageous premiums!  And why would they do so?  Why, because the prices of real estate have been spiraling upward like the forced steam of a 19th century locomotive.

Now to put this in perspective, if you got a twenty-dollar bill from an ATM machine, and then went to the grocery store to make a purchase only to find your twenty-dollar bill is counterfeit, what would or could you do?  The bank won’t take it back, and the grocery store won’t accept it as payment.  The one last holding the counterfeit bill takes the hit.  That would be you.  You are out $20.  Unless of course you go up the street to McDonalds or Starbucks and use the same bill to make a purchase, and get change in non-counterfeit denominations.  You have successfully handed off your risk of loss to someone else.  This is what the lenders and Wall Street did with the toxic mortgages.  They pawned them off, at exorbitant profit to the first suckers they could find–the foreigners looking for a place to put their excess holdings of American dollars.  Foreigners such as foreign central banks, for example.

The rest, as they say, is history.  The bubble price level of real estate popped, the mortgages were much higher than the value of the properties that collateralized them, the foreign holders of these toxic repackages had a fit, American lenders who didn’t leave the party early enough got stuck with a lot of non-performing loans, which meant that they no longer had sufficient reserves on hand to cover their exposure to those bad loans (which meant they were insolvent and a prime target for a run on them by their depositors.)  Then there were the insurors of these toxic assets who were extremely overleveraged and ready to go under, starting with AIG.  The American government came to the rescue, and bailed out the banks, the insurors, the foreign central banks.  How did they pay for all this?  At the heart of it all is a defective product–the toxic mortgages and the packages they became a part of.  There is no market for mortgages worth 30% less than the homes that are the collateral.  And to make matters worse, the prices continue to drop, and no one really knows how to determine what these properties are worth, other than to put them out to sale in a market where no one is buying.  So the Federal Reserve decides to buy the toxic financial instruments at prices that are made up, pure fiction.  And the Fed buys these mortgages with more fiction, pretend money.  Money created by making  book entries in digital ledgers.  The banks receive the digital money, their reserves are stabilized, and they are removed from the Endangered Species list.

There is only one problem.  The Fed, when they came to save the day, expanded the money supply of the world’s largest debtor nation to a degree unprecedented in history.  The whole world’s financial system continues on life support, and the machine is making disturbing noises.  You see, there is one minor detail everyone seems to be forgetting.  There are only two ways to acquire wealth:  produce value, or steal the value produced by someone else.  This nation’s value comes from its manufacturing plants, research and development departments, its science labs and production facilities.  There are no current economic indicators that reliably tell us these numbers are improving.  So can we print our way to recovery and prosperity?  Ben Bernanke says we can.  Tim Geithner says we can.  The President says we can.  In time, all that wildly inflated Money supply is going to work its way out into the economy, which means the purchasing power of the dollar is going to drop.  When ordinary people sense in their gut that the value of their dollar is dropping, they will rush to get rid of their dollars, just like foreign governments did in the last ten years.  But who will take them?  As the floor drops out of the dollar, we will rush to spend them in the morning, because they will be worth less by the evening.

Will the government’s debts be honored?  Of course.  Everyone who is owed will be paid.  With currency devalued to a fraction of its face value when it was borrowed.  But who can argue?  Everyone can see the numbers printed on the paper.  We will all be poorer, except those favored few who are in on the insider trading, who get rid of their money first. 

The remainder of the burden will be borne by the taxpayer.  Isn’t it amazing how much better we can feel, knowing we are taxpayers and not slaves?  Would we ever agree to becoming slaves?  Of course not.  At exactly what point does a taxpayer subjected to Washington’s gang warfare become a servant of the State? 10%?  25%?  50%? 75%?  Are we perhaps like Cleopatra, passively accepting our vassal state, as long as we are allowed to pretend we are still a free people?  Do you think Cleopatra felt better knowing that her country’s production of grain was being confiscated for the “good of society”, society as defined by her captors?  Roman society?  Like every other tyrant cum Benefactor in history, Cleopatra eventually got what she deserved, for she also was one of them.  She too had been one of the Gods. 

The claim of governments to control over money has no basis in nature or any rule of law recognizing individual rights and private property.  Statists all believe in the moral superiority of the collective; for them the sovereignty of the State trumps the sovereignty of the individual the State supposedly serves.  It is not hard to figure out which philosophy prevails in our culture.  The well funded collectives who contributed heavily to the campaigns of our politicians have been generously rewarded.   And what of the well-heeled financiers, bankers, stockholders and managers of the insurance companies, the foreign central bankers, and our own professional bureaucrats who created this problem?  They are the very ones selected to be bailed out or worse, chosen to correct it!

We, the individuals, the smallest and most unprotected “group” in the nation, will foot the bill.  Between inflation and taxation, dear Reader, it is our wealth that will be confiscated or destroyed.

Perhaps, like Cleopatra, we too have been given an invitation we cannot refuse.

The gods are still among us.

Financial Literacy: Measuring the Mood of the Mob by the Price of Gold

At various times throughout history money, or currency, has been based on metals, usually silver or gold.  This created an objective value to the currency of the period.  A dollar, for example, was worth an ounce of gold, or 1/10 of an ounce of gold, or 1/20 of an ounce of gold.  Governments and rulers, who always want to spend more money than they take in, either for their own enrichment or in order to bribe voters, usually try to debase their currency.  Kings about once a generation used to re-mint their coins (paper currency wasn’t invented yet), using the need to have their own image on the coin as the excuse, and they would dilute the gold content by mixing other metals with the gold, or slightly downsize the coin itself, but calling it by the same name as its predecessor.  When governments became well established, they usually did a ‘bait and switch’ routine and substituted printed money for metal coin, and again called it by the same name attached to a unit of its metal predecessor.  So a gold dollar was now called a paper dollar, as if their value were the same!

Once governments discovered the delights of the printing press, they would print as much money as they felt they could slip past their gullible and unaware subjects.  Acceptance by the herd was essential, and when the debased currency was widely rejected, it was not uncommon for a ruler to create stiff penalties, including the death penalty, for not accepting the paper currency as legal tender.  The reason governments prefer to print money is first of all so they are not bound by the usual principles of fiscal discipline (Don’t spend more than you make) but also every time they print money, they are actually lowering the unit value of that currency, reducing its purchasing power.  They are actually picking the pockets of their citizens, especially the most conservative ones who save.  The money these citizens save will not buy as much when it is finally spent as it would have immediately upon their having received it.

When citizens get nervous about the stability of the banking system, their political system, or their own personal safety, they are inclined to buy gold.  Gold does not pay interest, and it is still only worth what a buyer is willing to pay for it, but because there is a fixed quantity of it at any given point in time, its value tends to be very stable.  This is why nervous people buy gold as a hedge against inflation.  Gold is not without risk, however.  At times when the madding crowd is enamored of another of its periodic manias, interest in gold will wane as the herd stampedes in a new direction.  When demand falls off, the price of gold drops, like anything else.  Even in times of rising price of gold, there is always the possibility of the government confiscating it (that has been done by OUR government, as well as many others.)  Ultimately the government has the guns, and whatever we have is pretty much by permission.  A democracy, as I have written many times, is no guarantee of anything more than mob rule.  All people, in any period of history, need protected most from those they elect over themselves.  Inevitably their public servants become their masters.  Even here, the freest nation on earth, the Constitution guaranteeing both individual rights and the limitation of government’s powers, has been under steady attack for well over a hundred years by many activists who resent its restrictions.  They want to harness the coercive power of government to an endless list of programs to protect us from ourselves, and of course, with them at the levers of distribution and power.

For a short video on how the price of gold is a measure of the mood of the mob, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yuDZQFPgXCw

Did Capitalism Fail?

The global economic crisis now in play is being universally touted as the failure and collapse of capitalism.  The cover of the February 16, 2009 edition of Newsweek ecstatically proclaimed “WE ARE ALL SOCIALISTS NOW”.  The documented collapse of Wall St. institutions and international banking is being gleefully interpreted as the failure of capitalism itself.  In the furious debate that has ensued, the arguments for and against capitalism have focused entirely on the causes of various recent economic phenomena, such as Wall St. greed, the failure of regulators, the incompetence of one or another administration, and the complexity of derivatives that were both unheard of and technically impossible only twenty years ago.  All of them have totally missed the point.  Capitalism has not failed, because capitalism was not practiced to begin with.  Pure capitalism has never been practiced because it is philosophically unacceptable in our culture.  What is called capitalism today is a hybrid political philosophy so filled with contradictions, it is unable to defend itself.  To answer the question in the title of this article, we have to begin at the beginning. Read more..

Capitalism is a form of political philosophy.   The philosophy taught and accepted as orthodoxy in our Humanities departments of our universities was largely imported from Europe during the nineteenth century.  Europe’s ancient economic model and paradigm was that of feudalism, a system where the act of production was performed by serfs.  In the minds of medieval Europeans, manual labor was split from intellectual life and All property belonged to their kings(the head of their tribe) and this property was bestowed by the King’s permission to noblemen, usually as a reward for military service to the King.  Property could, and often was, reclaimed by the King at his whim.  This system lasted well into the nineteenth century, when it was replaced by what came to be called capitalism.  What really happened during this century is that ownership of property and production changed from the head of the tribe (the King) to the people of the tribe (the State).  The tribal attitude remained unchanged.  This is very important.  The concept of individual rights of a sovereign man was virtually unknown in Europe. considered inferior to it.  The role of nobility was to own and control such production.  Any act of material production was considered lowly and demeaning, and certainly not an appropriate pursuit of the upper classes.  Europe was (and is) very tribal, and everyone’s role was to serve the tribe.   About this same time the science of political economy came into being, but was again based on the tribe as the smallest unit, not the individual.  Political economy was the study of the most efficient utilization of economic resources, but those resources belonged to the community, and the individual was the smallest cell of that community.  A serf was still a serf, and the only known paradigm was ruling the producers of material goods with physical force, and this use of coercion was the privilege of the noble classes of society.  The American concept of individual rights of man was drastically and radically new.  In feudal Europe, there was no dignity or value to the creation of wealth, the honor and glory  was in the confiscation of it.  The American system was based on the principle that wealth was to be owned by its creators.  We became a great nation and economic powerhouse because people here could become wealthy beginning with nothing, because they were entitled, by law, not permission, to keep what they earned.  We understood early on that without economic rights, without the right to private property, there were no rights, for property rights are nothing more than the right to keep the results of our effort.

European political economy however clung to the preeminence of the tribe rather than the individual, and the products of ones efforts belonged to the community, and any profit or surplus was to be disposed of by the ruling class for the benefit of the tribe.  In America we saw a human being as an end in himself; in Europe they saw man as a member of the tribe.  Europeans were collectivist in their mindset; we were individualist here in America.  This has a lot to do with the fact that we have been a wellspring of innovation and entrepreneurial activity that has been the envy of the world.  Anywhere in the world, a young person with get-up-and-go wanted to go to America.  Europeans tended to be more rule -bound and clung to corporate models that emphasized security over risk taking; more safety and less reward.  Their society provided extensive social safety nets for the less productive and more regulatory restraints on the more productive.  In Europe individual rights were largely subordinated to group rights.  In the event of a conflict between the two, the greater good of the greater number prevailed.  That of course begs the question, The greater good as determined by whom?  The answer of course is by whomever is in power at the moment.

The American experiment was enshrined in our Constitution and in our Declaration of Independence, two remarkable documents designed to separate us from any other democracy; these statements of intent declared that even in a democracy there were some things that could NOT be voted on, and that would NOT be subjected to the will of the majority:  anything that was a violation of individual rights could not be voted away by some majority in power.  These documents were to protect us from our own government; that the goals, visions, and wishes of  any groups or gangs that might get voted into office were limited by the sanctity of individual rights.  Those rights began with the right to hold property by law and not by permission.  In America our problems began with a philosophical conflict between capitalism, or each individual seeking their own personal happiness and life values, and the ideal of altruism, i.e. that man’s highest and greatest value should be in the service to others.  In time it became culturally unacceptable to openly declare so-called selfish motives, such as profit, and all such self-seeking behavior had to be camoflaged as job creation, charitable donations, community involvement.  A man’s profits could only be justified by how much of it he gave away (to charity) for the public good.  In a capitalistic society, values are established by objective criteria; the worth of a man’s product is determined by what another man is willing to trade for it (markets); whereas in a collectivist system, values are assigned according to either subjective (what I think) criteria, or intrinsic (what the value should be) criteria.  We saw this manifested most recently by the current administration assigning salary caps to any organization which receives a government bailout.  Who decides what such caps should be, and by what criteria?  Rather than capitalism, we have what is commonly known as a mixed economy, which is a hybrid of capitalism (private ownership of the means of production), socialism (mostly private ownership of the means of production, but State regulation of it) and communism (all State ownership of the means of production).  A mixed economy resembles feudalism to the extent that you “own” property until the King (the modern State) says you don’t.  In a mixed economy, the State regularly interferes with free market processes, usually in the pursuit of political power thinly disguised as altruistic purposes.  A mixed economy lurches schizophrenically back and forth from free market initiatives to social planning according to which philosophy is currently enthroned by the electorate.  In a mixed economy, political decisions are frequently imposed by force on “free” markets for political or ideological reasons.  Any time such decisions are imposed, they are never market choices or there would have been no need to impose anything by force, edict, or law.  One of the many problems with social engineering is the Law of Unintended Consequences.  Such was the case in 1999 when the Clinton Administration leaned heavily on  Fannie Mae to ease the credit requirements on loans to subprime borrowers.  Home ownership was declared a “right” without regard to financial qualifications.  The banks were eager to make such loans because they got to bundle them and sell them in “securitized” packages at huge mark-ups to investors, primarily foreign governments.  Easing of credit created a gigantic bubble in the real estate asset class, all of which has created our current global crisis.  In a truly free market, without government guarantees, lenders would have been far more circumspect about credit worthiness; and without government interference with credit markets, we would not have had too much cash (and credit) chasing too few goods (real estate), resulting in runaway inflation of home prices.  When the credit bubble collapsed, the promised collateral rapidly deflated in value, causing the banks to stop lending in an effort to improve their reserves, and no one, not the banks, not the government, and not the politicians, wanted to fix a real, current market value to the collateral for loans in default.  To do so would have required a massive mark-down of the banks assets and a considerable number of them would have been insolvent.

The above referenced Newsweek article positively gushes about our rush to European-style socialism, engaging in circular prose and unanswered questions; the questions without acceptable answers.  I give you:  “Whether we want to admit it or not . . . the America of 2009 is moving toward a modern European state.”  And, “As entitlement spending rises over the next decade, we will become even more French.”  Or how about this one:  “Polls show that Americans don’t trust government and still don’t want big government.  They do however, want what government delivers, like . . . protections from banking and housing failure.”  “The Obama administration is caught in a paradox.  It must borrow and spend to fix a crisis created by too much borrowing and spending.” (emphasis mine)  Crisis created by what policies?  No answer.  Then in direct contradiction to what it said before about a decade of increasing entitlement spending by government, this author continues:  “Having pumped the economy up with a stimulus, the president will have to cut the growth of entitlement spending . . . ).  The next article in that issue of Newsweek says approvingly:  “One of the more lasting effects will be a steady drift toward what could be called a European model of governance, regulation, and paternalism. . . the U.S. government will be forced to fill the gap, firmly directing  businesses in all sorts of ways—regulating some industries (particularly banking and the automotive sector) with big brother vigilance, favoring others like clean energy with grants and loans, and turning still others—health care and pensions—into virtual wards of the state.”  Now folks, before we lose our perspective, this loving, paternalistic, omniscient government is the same one that spent Social Security trust funds (the largest Ponzi scheme in history), that lists an enemy nation-state, China, as its largest creditor, that has a national debt equal to $186,717 for every man, woman, and child in America, that is on target to incur $7 trillion in new deficits over the next 10 years, and that has already this year of 2009 incurred a deficit equal to 4 x the total deficit for 2008, which up till then was the record highest!  Folks, this has nothing to do with capitalism.  This is vintage social planning.  The Newsweek article continues:  “So aside from expanding the social safety net, the government will have to take a greater role in guiding business toward ends the state deems healthy for the overall economy.” (Emphasis mine)  This is not the creation of wealth, it is confiscation and redistribution of that wealth to fit social and ideological visions of the planners with the guns.  This is the practical application of altruism in the field of economics, and the only real question is, how do we seize property without losing our producers?  “Publicly funded” means property expropriated from those who produced it.  As Newsweek notes almost as an afterthought:  “Slow growth could kill rugged American individualism, too.”

All of this is possible only because no one has the courage to challenge the socialists on moral grounds; that altruism is theft, not service; and that the great flaw of socialism is not its very unpleasant side effects, but the fact that it separates the producer from the product of his efforts and denies his right to keep it.  It forcibly redistributes that wealth in ways that foster dependence (aka paternalism) and the greed of the needy.  It is a philosophy that is anti-life, as we acknowledge in the Declaration of Independence, wherein we acknowledge the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Since property in a free society comes by the production of objective values that sustain life, expropriating those products is separating a man from his means to his life.

Did capitalism fail?  It never had a chance.

Thanks for visiting.  Leave a comment.  John Bechtel, Greenville, SC