Thursday, April 30, 2015

Questions On Economics, The Poor, and Wealth Creation

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. –St Peter

I first became interested in economics during the Carter Administration. Yes, children, I am that old. The economy was in the toilet with inflation around 14+% and people were suffering, especially those on fixed incomes, such as the elderly. Some were advocating the Feds spending more (increasing the national debt, printing even more bogus-currency) while others, such as Governor Reagan, were calling for a decrease in federal spending and of taxes. In all honesty, my sentiments leaned toward Carter, probably because I had voted for the guy and saw his failures as an indictment of my intelligence and wisdom. My father suggested that I humble myself and admit that mine was a foolish vote.  My dad: ever the cheerleader!

During these years, there were a plethora of books being published on The Simple Life, suggesting that we live on only the money that was absolutely necessary for survival, and giving the rest away to the poor. (Actually, many of the authors called for the government to seize all “excess” money.) The part of my personality that leaned towards sentimentalism felt that this was probably the Christian thing to do. However, there was another part of me—the part that had been influenced by dad constantly telling me, “Your feelings are not an argument”—left me doubting the assertions of evangelists for The Simple Life, especially those whom were calling for forced “charity” via confiscatory taxation. There was just something about the oxymoron of “forced charity” that troubled me.

Around this same time, I was beginning to work in underdeveloped countries where people were being beaten to death by poverty; all while their political leaders were becoming astronomically wealthy. (El Presidente: “Keep that foreign aid coming!”) In my youthful Idealism, I was going to help solve this problem, wherever I could, with charity: raise money here in the US and give it away to the poor in other countries. But it wasn’t working out. I would give the poor food one month and, upon my return a few months later, they needed more food.

This was the milieu in which my studies on macroeconomics, as well as in wealth creation, began. I was looking for historically verified and validated principles – The Laws of Economics – that would guide me in my pursuits of helping the poor escape their poverty; in coaching entrepreneurs and businesspeople; and in engaging The Powers That Be in dialogues regarding how best to move societies toward capital expansion, within a moral framework that supported the dignity owed each individual within that society, whatever their net worth.

I recently ran across my original questions from1981, while in Manila, Philippines, witnessing the fraudulently wealthy President Marcos get his comeuppance by being voted out of office and replaced by a woman of great integrity, Ms Corazon Aquino.

Here are some of those questions

What is the definition of poverty/who are The Poor? From a historical perspective, prevailing common sense saw charity as a stopgap measure, not as a lifestyle: How do we truly help the poor escape poverty and provide for themselves?

If a major part of the solution to helping underdeveloped nations is foreign aid, why is it that after billions of dollars of such aid (today that number would be one trillion dollars), these nations are as poor as they were before receiving the aid? Are there correlations between the failures of foreign aid and the failures of US’ social programs?

The market place: what is the place of civil governments, other than keeping out force and fraud? Are there correlations between degrees of government involvement in the market place and the over-all prosperity, or lack thereof, of a nation?

How is wealth generated and sustained? What are the historically proven principles for success in the market place? Further: scanning the histories of other capitalist or even quasi-capitalistic nations and then comparing these nations with those that have adopted socialism/communism, what are the direct impacts of each economic system upon the poor?

[And, for me, this final question was and is the North Star of my studies]
Do the scriptures cast any light on the answers to the above questions? I can think of a few things: Don’t steal, which presupposes private property; honest weights and measures, which prohibits fraud; we are to work 6 days a week; we are to do all we can (Jesus’ story of the widow’s mite) for the poor, but not for the lazy-poor (Paul); harming or abusing the poor, widows, and orphans, incurs God’s wrath; and then all the passages in Proverbs about planning, seeking wisdom, the blessings that comes with faithfulness and diligence, avoiding get-rich-quick-schemes, and etc.

Over the years, other questions were added and answers sought, all while seeking to see how my answers-solutions worked out (or didn’t) in the real world, both in serving the poor and in coaching my clients toward success. These questions are not those of an economist or a professor, but of a man who wishes to provide for himself, care for the poor, and see our grandchildren and great-grand children doing the same, in a nation that, once again, sees the symbiotic relationship between freedom and prosperity.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2015

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Spirituality of Designer Religions

You can’t read a magazine or watch TV without hearing some rock star or movie actor gushing on and on about being a “spiritual person.” Same goes for Facebook, where people post such profound bon mots as, “I am not religious. I am spiritual.” Maybe it’s just me but this always leaves me wondering: You’re spiritual? To what spirit are you referring? It begs the question, doesn’t it?

“Being spiritual” doesn’t say enough for me to have even the slightest clue as to what you are describing or asserting about your beliefs. If we have a Buddhist, a Baptist, and a believer in Brahman, each saying he is spiritual, aren’t they all saying something categorically different? And if a word can mean so many different things to different people, why confuse your listeners with such an amorphous word?

Why, indeed.

While there are probably more reasons than I can imagine, I believe that most all of them can be traced back to two.

When I say that I am spiritual, I am letting you know that I believe in something higher than myself, but am not suggesting – the pantheon of gods forbid—that my spirituality is superior or higher or nobler than your spirituality. Well, unless, that is, your “spirituality” includes what you believe are divinely given moral codes with which I disagree: then you are “religious.” My spirituality makes no base and disgusting judgments about the behavior of others because doing so is my one sacred prohibition.

Okay. There are some behaviors upon which my spirituality demands I call down hell and damnation.

It always baffles me when people go on and on about the horrific nature of God’s Ten Commandments, only to discover that they actually have created far more sacrosanct laws than we find on Moses’ two tablets. They sit there telling me how restrictive The Ten Commandments are, how morally reprehensible or barbaric it is, and then, when I light up a cigar or order a 24 oz porterhouse or they hear about my stash of banned light-bulbs I am still using or my belief in a free market economy or of the one hundred other sacred cows of theirs that I am goring by my behavior, they want me stoned or shunned…or at least have my right to vote taken away.

Which brings me to the second reason. By referring to myself as being “spiritual and not religious,” I get to believe and behave however I choose. Is that cool, or what? There are no dogmas, no codes of behavior, and no traditions, other than those I create for myself. Maybe I’ll take a little from Buddha, a smidgen from Hinduism, and something from Jesus about loving others, and, Voila: I have my self-created designer religion that demands nothing of me other than what I want it to.

Why not just say, “I have designed my own religion”? I can’t say that because it would make me sound like I have a god-complex. Then what about professing that I practice syncretism: a combination of various beliefs and practices taken from many religions that were chosen according to what makes me feel good about myself, fits my personality, and supports my chosen cultural mores.  O. Wait a minute. Those are basically saying the same thing, aren’t they.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2015