Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Bush Bailout and What's Wrong With It

In the 1930s America experienced an economic crisis, which has come to be known as the ‘Great Depression.’ This crisis did not occur out of the blue, nor was it caused by a series of runs on the bank.

It was caused by government intervening to cushion the consequences of imprudent investments.

Leading up to the Great Depression, the American economy had experienced massive growth. Much of this growth was illusory, propelled by investment in companies exceeding their actual profits. Because many companies had a value higher than their earnings (in some cases no earnings at all), people began to grasp that their shares weren’t worth as much as they paid. The banks realized this too, and so they began to call loans.

Now naturally when banks begin to call bad loans, this creates losses. But this is not a bad thing. In a free market, loss as well as growth are necessary components for stability, since bad business practices are then allowed to suffer their natural consequences. However, instead of letting things to take their natural course, the government stepped in to try to fix things. From 1923-29, the American money supply was increased 61 times by the Federal Reserve. This amplified inflation which accelerated the boom market, perpetuating the illusory sense of prosperity. Naturally the new money supply encouraged more imprudent investments.

Things could only be put off for so long and in February of 29 the stock market ceased to expand, causing Wall Street to collapse.

President Herbert Hoover (picture on left) responded by doctoring the market again. In ‘31 he launched the greatest peace-time deficit spending program in history to try to prop up the economy. Because money has to come from somewhere, it was the tax payer who had to foot the bill. Thus, in ‘32 Hoover launched the largest peace-time tax hike in America’s history. To pay their taxes, people had to remove massive amounts of money from the banks, which increased the burden the financial institutions were already under, creating a vicious cycle.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn once remarked that “If we don’t know our own history then we simply have to endure all of the same mistakes and all of the same sacrifices and all of the same absurdities over again times ten.” Nowhere is the truth of Solzhenitsyn’s words more evident than in America today, which is like a replay of the events of the Hoover administration.

During America’s recent economic boom, the Federal Reserve deliberately kept interest rates low in order to encourage investments. As in the 1920’s, this distorted the market because it allowed entrepreneurs to engage in malinvestments - investments which failed to take into account actual resource availability.

The artificial sense of prosperity led to many Americans to invest in homes they could not afford. Gambling on the idea that house prices would keep rising indefinitely, they counted on selling or re-financing their homes before the bill came due. Banks allowed this to occur by giving out sub-prime mortgages. (A ‘sub-prime’ mortgage is a type of loan granted to individuals with poor credit histories.) As can be expected, when the house market levelled out, many simply had no way of paying. As a consequence, currently 9% of all Americans with mortgages are either behind on their payments or in foreclosure.

The nature of politics in America has also contributed to the financial crisis. It is candidates who promise the most ‘goodies’ who get elected and voters rarely ask, “Where is the money for that going to come from?” When unforeseen expenses, like the war in Iraq or hurricane Katrina, are added to the cost of all the entitlements, pensions and programs government has already committed to pay, there is only one place for the money to come from: debt.

Given the irresponsible pattern of spending and investment from both the public and private sector, it should come as no surprise to find the American economy going belly up. The question is: will the United States learn from the stock market crash of ‘29 and allow bad investments to suffer their natural consequences, or will government try to artificially prop up the economy? It is the later course that the Bush administration is pursuing. According to current proposals, the American taxpayer will have to pick up the bill for a $700 billion bailout, in which government will buy toxic loans and mortgages from hurting financial institutions. This will increase the national debt ceiling to at least $11.315 trillion, bringing the federal deficit to 79% of the American economy. That equals nearly $2,300 for every man, woman and child in the USA.

By removing the consequences of bad business practices, the government is setting a terrible precedent. The Bush administration as well as presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, are trying to cure the problem by the very means which brought it about. If the market had been allowed to be truly free rather than being doctored with by the Federal Reserve, then interest rates would have reflected reality and discouraged malinvestment. It is perhaps asking too much to expect the government to have learned its lesson and be willing to finally take a “hands-off” approach to the economy, whatever the short-term consequences might be.

Not all members of government have been so blind. Congressmen Ron Paul (pictured left) has argued that what is needed is the liquidation rather than the purchasing of toxic debt. Commenting on the proposed bailout, the Texas representative said: “It's the same destructive strategy that government tried during the Great Depression: prop up prices at all costs. The Depression went on for over a decade. On the other hand, when liquidation was allowed to occur in the equally devastating downturn of 1921, the economy recovered within less than a year…. By doing more of the same, we will only continue and intensify the distortions in our economy – all the capital misallocation, all the malinvestment – and prevent the market's attempt to re-establish rational pricing of houses and other assets.” (Visit Ron Paul's blog HERE)
Solzhenitsyn (picture on right) was correct: if we don’t know our own history then we simply have to endure all of the same mistakes and all of the same sacrifices and all of the same absurdities over again times ten.

In this case, times billions.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

The Great Depression

Alexander Solzhenitsyn once remarked, ‘If we don’t know our own history then we simply have to endure all of the same mistakes and all of the same sacrifices and all of the same absurdities over again times ten.’

No where is the truth of Solzhenitsyn’s words more evident than in the economic problems America is facing today. Watching how the government is responding to the economic crisis is like watching the 1930's all over again. Click
HERE to read my lecture notes for the Roaring Twenties and Great Depression. In a future post I hope to draw some specific parallels.

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Fairy Tales

Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

G. K. Chesterton

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Elderly with Dementia have a "Duty to Die"

Dementia sufferers should consider ending their lives because of the burden they create for families and public services, Baroness Warnock has claimed.

The 84-year-old veteran Government adviser said she hopes that certain people will soon be ‘licensed to put others down.’

Lady Warnock, who helped push through the current laws on fertility treatment and embryo research in the 1980s, made her controversial statements in a recent interview with the Church of Scotland's magazine Life and Work, where she said: "If you're demented, you're wasting people's lives – your family's lives – and you're wasting the resources of the National Health Service...’

In a recent article for a Norwegian periodical, titled 'A Duty to Die?', the Baroness wrote that ‘sacrificing oneself for one's family would be considered good. I don't see what is so horrible about the motive of not wanting to be an increasing nuisance.’ (Read more

This seems to confirm some of the specific concerns about euthanasia I raised in my earlier article in the section "Vulnerable People at Risk."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Decent Drapery of Life

This book is no longer available because a new edition of it is currently under publication with Wipf and Stock publishers. It will be available again in 2012.

Below are some answers to common questions about the work.

In a Nut-shell, what is the book about?

The Decent Drapery of Life attempts to defend Biblical morality by showing the consequences of the alternative. While this is nothing new in itself, I have tried to approach the problem from an original angle. Rather than simply lamenting how bad things have become in our society, I try to show that the results of the sexual revolution have actually been antithetic to its own goals.

Starting at the time of the ‘Enlightenment’ and working my way through to the present day, I observe that a consequence of rejecting the Biblical worldview has been to rob men and women of the ability to properly enjoy themselves as God intended. The reductionism of gender and sexuality wrought by the materialistic worldview has created a new network of secular taboos.

The result is that gender has been neutralized and the spice has been taken out of life. As my argument unfolds, I try to make it clear that the Biblical approach is not simply the ethical option: it is also the most sexy. The alternatives to Biblical morality, which our society has been desperately trying to make work, not only fail to achieve their own goals, but are ultimately boring by comparison.

Why do you think this book is important?

My hope is that The Decent Drapery of Life will help the church at a time when chastity is ‘in’ but coherent thinking about chastity is at an all time low. Many Christian young people think that as long as you don’t have sex before marriage then you are keeping to the Biblical sex ethic. That is ethics by subtraction, which leaves a moral vacuum that makes the young person a prime target for sexual temptation.

My approach. on the other hand, is to try to show that purity is not a matter of negation, but of affirmation. Against those who maintain that Biblical standards of purity and integrity represent a repressive or a pessimistic view of sexuality, I try to show that the shoe is actually on the other foot.

In the long run, I argue that Biblical morality is the truly erotic option.

What market is the book aimed at?

I wrote it for teenagers to help them think in fresh ways about old truths. Every chapter ends with questions for reflection and a list of materials for further reading. It is designed so it can be used in a group setting, either in a homeschool or classical Christian school, although the book can equally be read straight through on one’s own. It may also be particularly useful for Christian youth groups to read and discuss together.

Why did you choose this topic to write about?

Well, it wasn't like I just sat down one day and said to myself, "What ho, I think I'll write a book about the Enlightenment's effect on gender and sexual morality." The book really came about more as a gradual evolution from a number of other factors in my life.

What were those factors?

The first factor was that in 2001 I spent a year studying the Enlightenment period as part of my degree in Western Civ. That period of history intrigued and fascinated me, as it still does today. I have been particularly keen to understand the influence that the European Enlightenment exercized over our own culture and the part it played in shaping some of our basic assumptions about the world.

At the same time that I was studying the enlightenment, I was also researching for my book The Way of a Man With a Maid: A Response to the Courtship and Betrothal Movements. In order to refute some of the bizare historical claims made by modern advocates of betrothal, it was necessary for me to do research into Jewish marriage customs. In the course of my research I met a rabbi who recomended Wendy Shalit's book A Return To Modesty. I was fascinated by Shalit's contention that promiscuity and prudery are just two sides of the same unerotic coin. At the same time, her book frustrated me because it didn't go deep enough into some of the philosophical questions which necessarily come prior to questions about modesty and morality. I became convinced that the paradigm worldview shifts which occured during the Enlightenment had played directly into the sociological trends which Shalit and so many others were lamenting without necessarily understanding.

These thoughts stayed at the back of my mind during the duration of my time at university. When I graduated in 2004, I was unemployed. So to keep myself busy, I began researching and writing about the Enlightenment, including following some of the threads I have just mentioned. My real goal was to pursue these studies in academic research, and my opportunity came in 2005 when I was accepted into a PhD program at the University of York to research gender and sexuality in 18th century Europe.

When I had to bail out of that for financial reasons, I decided to write up my ideas for a popular rather than a scholarly audience. In particular, I aimed it at my teenagers and some other homeschooled teenagers I was asked to tutor in 2006. I wanted my students to be able to connect the dots between ideas and consequences, and so I gave them lessons and activities with that end in mind. Although I had the first draft already written before I began tutoring them, using it in a school context forced me to rewrite it for clarity and also to make sure it wasn't too academic.

Is there anything that other people can do it help promote the book?

Yes. Because I have self-published the book through a print-on-demand service, I don't have a distribution infrastructure. That means that the only way people will hear about the book is through this blog and word of mouth. To help with the word of mouth part, I have an advert which can be printed and passed out. You can download the advert HERE, but the size is not equal to a piece of paper, so if you want to print it, let me know and I will email you a copy.

Can you provide a chapter by chapter outline of the book?
Chapter 1: Ideas Have Consequences

This chapter looks at the fact that philosophies shape cultural development. In this chapter I also introduce the topic to be pursued in the book, which is the effect that the Enlightenment period has had on Western conceptions of sexual morality and gender.

Chapter 2: Man-Centered or God Centered?

This chapter looks at the 18th century Enlightenment, with particular attention given to the worldviews of materialism and determinism. The chapter also explores the role that various thinkers played in introducing a paradigm shift from a God-centered worldview to a man-centered worldview.

Chapter 3: Materialism Marginalizes God

This chapter considers the effect that the worldviews discussed in the previous chapter had on the concept of a personal God. Particular attention is given to the role that “Newtonian philosophy” played in this process.

Chapter 4: The Quest for Nature

This chapter explores the implication that these ideas had on perceptions of nature. In particular, I explore some of the problems a determinist faces in trying to decide which behavior is “natural.” If man is just a predetermined machine, then anything we decide to do must be “natural” for us.

Chapter 5: Enlightened Sex

This chapter explores some of the implications these philosophical shifts had in the area of sexual morals. In particular, I explore how the Enlightenment’s own “sexual revolution” was a direct outworking of the determinism and materialism of the 18th century.

Chapter 6: Utilitarian Morality

This chapter looks at the way key Enlightenment thinkers were unhappy with the practical implications their ideas began to have in the area of sexual morality. As an alternative, they proposed utilitarian substitutes to Christian morality.

Chapter 7: A Woman is But an Animal

This chapter explores that just as materialism affected people’s view on morality, it also affected their view of gender. A corollary of mankind being deconstructed by the materialist hammer was that our identity as men and women was also smashed. I explore how these problems played out in the ideas of Rousseau and Mary Wollstonecraft.

Chapter 8: The Gender Benders

This chapter explores how these same problems have played out in our own era. Our age is more consistent with the implications of the Enlightenment worldview, and thus it is widely assumed that all non-physical gender differences are mere social constructions. This leads to “androgyny” or the “unisex” movement, whereby the differences between the sexes are neutralized.

Chapter 9: The Disenchanting of Sex

This chapter continues to explore how androgyny has played out in our own era, with particular attention to the reduction of sexuality and modesty.

Chapter 10: Liberated Into Bondage

This chapter looks at the “free love” movement as the final expression of the Enlightenment worldview, while showing that the paradoxical legacy of free love has been to create a society characterized by sexual neurosis and a new code of unnatural sexual taboos.

Chapter 11: The Enlightenment Legacy

This final chapter returns to the debates between Rousseau and Mary Wollstonecraft, emphasizing that the ideas of the latter (which were themselves paradigmatic of the Enlightenment project) have been realized in contemporary approaches to matrimony and sexuality, with the effect that men and women are unable to freely enjoy themselves as God intended.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Murky Depths of the Apostrophe

Since nobody responded to my request for a proof-reader, I thought it was time I brushed up on my own editorial skills. I decided to begin with something very simple which I thought I already had a handle on, namely the Apostrophe. I soon found that things were not as straight forward as I thought with that little multi-tasking beast of a mark. In her hilarious book Eats Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss gets into the murky depths of the Apostrophe where most of us never penetrate. It becomes evident that the apostrophe, poor little thing, has about as many uses as butter has in cooking. My goal is that by writing them down here I will better remember them.

An apostrophe comes before the “s” to indicate a possessive in a singular noun. “The boy’s hat.”

An apostrophe comes after the “s” when the possessor is a regular plural. “The boys’ hats.”

An apostrophe is used to indicate time or quantity: “In one week’s time.”

It indicates the omission of figures in dates or letters in a word (“The summer of ‘68”), in particularly to abbreviate “it is” or “it has”.

It indicates strange, non-standard English: “”’Appen yer’d better ‘ave this key?

It features in Irish names: O’Neill and O’Casey
It indicates the plurals of letters: “How many f’s are there in Fulham?

It indicates the plurals of words: “What are the do’s and don’t’s?
It is placed before a second “s” in the plural of modern names ending in “s”: “Keats’s poems.” (Apparently this rule is very controversial).
It is placed after the “s” in the plural of ancient names ( “Archimedes’ screw”) but not when the name ends in an “iz” sound (“Moses’ tablets”) or when the name happens to be Jesus (“Jesus’ disciples”).

It is placed potentially anywhere at whim for any noun which an institution, town, college, family, company or brands has authorship over.

It is used in the double possessive: “Elton John, a friend of the couple’s…” (Don't ask me to explain what the double possessive is).

In recent years it has been decided that the Apostrophe no longer has to be used in the plurals of abbreviations or dates: “MPs” or “1980s”

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Apples and Oranges

“You can’t compare apples and oranges.” Or so I was always told.

During my adolescence it didn’t matter how many times I heard that, there remained a nagging suspicion at the back of my mind that perhaps, just perhaps, you could compare apples and oranges.

During my teenage years and early adulthood I struggled to suppress the thought. Who was I to challenge the collective wisdom of mankind? Who was I to think I could succeed where so many great minds had failed? Who was I to think I could compare the incomparable? Who was I to even dare to compare apples and oranges?

Try as I might, however, the thought would not go away. It haunted me like the shadow of a spectre always near but never visible. It clung to me with a stickiness comparable to spilled orange juice the next day.

On dark nights, especially when the moon was full, glowing as it did like a luminescent giant orange suspended over our terrestrial sphere, a little voice kept telling me, “maybe you can, maybe you can, maybe you just can compare apples and oranges.”

Then it happened. One cold November night I lay awake, listening to the rain pattering on our roof like a thousand apples falling from their trees. Not being able to sleep I decided that I would do something outrageous. I decided that I would compare apples and oranges!

At first I was almost too scared to do so. But I had gone past the point of no return and suddenly, almost involuntarily, a host of comparisons came flooding into my consciousness like hundreds of apples suddenly falling from a tree in unison.

Oranges are juicier than apples. The skin of the apple is edible whereas the skin of the orange is not (well, you can eat it, but it doesn’t taste very nice). Oranges are the colour orange whereas apples are green, red or yellow. And on and on.

As I lay there in bed, itemizing the differences between the two fruits, I felt that somehow I was simply realizing what I had always known inside yet had never possessed the courage to face:
You can compare apples and oranges.

Since then, just to prove that it is still possible, I have established the habit of comparing apples and oranges in 4 different ways every Wednesday before breakfast. And the more I do so, the more I have to ask myself, how did the idea ever become accepted that this couldn’t be done? You see, apples and oranges are so easy to compare because they both belong to the same category: they are both fruit. The things which can’t be compared are those objects which belong in totally separate categories of things. For example, if they had of told me that you can’t compare an orange with my Dell laptop, I would understand it.

Even if they had told me that you couldn’t compare a morning in June with a chipmunk, I might have been convinced.

Or why didn’t they tell us that you couldn’t compare tulips with toilet paper? That at least would make sense.

Equally, they might have said that you can’t compare jelly fish with Jacob’s ladder. Or venison with Victorianism. Or Tom Wright with Tom Kitten, for that matter.

But apples and oranges? Give me a break: any child can compare them!

Further Reading

Apples and Oranges -- A Comparison by Scott A. Sandford, NASA Ames Research Center, Mountain View, California

Comparing apples and oranges: a randomised prospective studyBritish Medical Journal, Dec 23, 2000 by James E Barone

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Family Update and Pictures

There is not a lot of new news to report from the Phillips' household.

We recently purchased two dogs.

Joe recently moved out.

Matthew has begun 4th grade at the school where I used to teach, while we are homeschooling the others.

Now that I am no longer teaching, I have been doing various writing projects. (See the articles I recently wrote for the Christian Voice website: Totalitarian Britain and Nanny State Turns Nasty and The Families in Your Church May Not Be Safe). At first it worked out quite well to be paid in pounds while living in the dollar zone, but now that the exchange rate has evened out a bit, I have had to take on additional work to make up for the shortfall. I am currently working on a tree farm. Below is a picture of it.

On the anniversary of Matthew's baptism we had a party to celebrate all of our baptisms. Below is a picture of our baptism party, where we are drinking wine to celebrate having been brought into the family of God. (I am not in the picture because I was taking it.)

Last weekend, the three younger children and I went up into the mountains with a friend to pick Huckleberries and gather firewood. In one of the pictures below you can see the tree we chopped down while it is in the process of falling, in addition to some other pictures from our day in the mountains.

Immediately below is a picture of us playing croquet in our back yard with various friends.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Great Sermon on God's Kingdom

One of the things that is such a blessing about
our church is that every Lord's Day we hear the Word of God faithfully preached. Last Lord's day, Pastor Bryan preached an excellent sermon on the growth of God's kingdom, tacking a whack at a few eschatological sacred cows in the process. You can download and listen to the sermon HERE. It is the item for 9/7/2008 on Mark 4:26-34. Or simply click HERE to start listening right away.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Chosen By God

In our homeschool Esther has been going through the Omnibus curriculum with Miriam. Since one of the texts is R.C. Sproul’s Chosen by God, Esther asked me to read it and see what I thought of it.

I have enjoyed reading Chosen by God. The book is very clear and lucid and is a great place to start for anyone wanting to understand the reformed doctrine of predestination. I would highly recommend it, not least because predestination is one of those doctrines which typically attract opponents which have not really taken the time to understand the doctrine and all its nuances.

Chosen by God does not address all the complexities of predestination and for this reason the book can sometimes be frustrating. Yet it is not a scholarly work so we shouldn’t expect too much for it, and it is a great place to start.

The book contains both theological and philosophical arguments in favour of predestination. Occasionally the philosophical arguments can rest on false dilemmas and non sequiturs, although this is simply because the book doesn’t have space for more detailed argumentation, and an astute reader can mentally fill in the gaps in the arguments.

Sproul presents a fatal critique of the Wesleyian view which says that grace sufficient for salvation has already been given to all men. He also presents a knock-out argument for the fact that regeneration must precede repentence (which in my view is the crux of the whole TULIP).

One thing which I particularly appreciated about the book was that it helped me to understand the difficult line in the Westminster Confession about God forordaining everything that comes to pass. One of the reasons I have struggled with that is because it seems to implicate God in causing evil. But on page 26 and also chapter 7 Sproul shows that God’s sovereignty over evil choices is very different to His sovereignty over good choices. In the case of the former, God’s sovereignty is passive, in so far as He allows certain things to happen but does not actually cause them, whereas in the case of the latter, God’s sovereignty is active, in so far as He actually causes certain things to come about. (I had the chance to privately speak with R.C. Sproul Jr. at a recent church camp. R.C. Sproul Jr. is a superlapsarian and disagrees with his father on this point.)

To order your own copy of the book, click HERE. (I am an affiliate with Amazon, so if you order books through the links given on this blog, Amazon gives me a commission of the sale).

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