Opening Guidance on the Seventh Commandment
(para 2401 to 2406 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church) - God intends that the goods of the earth should benefit all men, but also ordains the private control of most goods because that allows for their most effective deployment.
The forgoing statement sums up the Catholic Church’s teaching about the proper view of things. Essentially the church teaches that God gives a limited right of control and use of the things of the world to private people so long as they keep in mind their obligation to use said things to help others. Should they fail to properly use things, or should they use them in an excessively selfish way, then the Church teaches that the state is authorized to step in to tax, regulate, or expropriate so that these things are used with greater concern for the wider society.
All this is fairly hypothetical and needs an example or two to flesh things out.
First, Large corporations own huge amounts property and other assets.. These assets are controlled by the company’s Board of Directors. These Boards pick CEOs to make day in and day out decisions to move the company forward.
For much of the last decade, a CEO named Stan O’Neal ran Merrill Lynch, one of the world’s largest brokerage firms. This CEO decided he wanted to maximize the company’s profits without paying much attention to risk. He pushed his investment banking department to create as many Collateralized Debt Obligation as possible. These are pools composed of residential mortgages. These pools were loaded with fees that are charged against the pools. These fees jacked up the profits of the brokerage firm issuing the CDO’s. When everyone in the land who could handle a mortgage had one, O’Neal started pushing people to find “no doc” and “low doc” borrowers so more CDOs could be issued. The scheme allowed Merrill to collect huge fees, it allowed O’Neal to collect a 2006 bonus of $76 million, it caused the collapse of Merrill in 2008, and it forced its merger into Bank of America after that bank was bribed to take on “the Merrill mess” with huge TARP payments. Mr O’Neal was given control over one of the greatest assemblage of assets in the land, he owed a trust and duty to several groups, his customers, his employees, his shareholders, and the country as a whole. He violated those trusts and was one of the greatest facilitators of the recent financial collapse that has robbed literally millions of their sense of financial stability. O’Neal misused assets that others had a right to expect would be properly deployed. Though he remains free, he is probably the greatest violator of the basic principles of the Seventh Commandment in this century.
Second, factories have been moving to China. Shareholders want maximum profits, and they see the low wage rates in China. They see lack of regulation in China: no unions, no rules on work place safety, no min wages laws, no environmental controls, no unemployment compensation regulations, etc. The pressure to move a factory out of a rural American town to China become overwhelming. The goods can be made inexpensively and shipped back to be sold at Wal Mart. The only people injured are the workers and other townspeople in the small rural town who had come to think of the factory as being their factory.
So an asset which had been the means of support for the small American town is now a means of support for a community in China. Is that a violation of the general principles of Seventh Commandment - perhaps .... perhaps not. The Chinese need work just as the Americans need work. But does the principle of subsidiarity, of keeping control close to home, extend to jobs. Should a local community have the right to impose a tariff on imports if those imports impinge on employment in their community? Should tariff decisions be made in a remote capital city 1500 or 2000 miles away? Should international businessmen be allowed to give big campaign contributions to Congressman and Senators who then vote to decide import policy?
No one has gone to jail for stealing jobs from American towns, but should they?.
Third, Hillaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton have written eloquently about “distributism” which holds that the means of production and the distribution of goods should be organized around small firms that operate across small geographic areas. The idea here is to develop firms where the owners, customers, and employees know each other and feel a sense of mutual interest that transcends mere financial exchange. The counter argument is that small organizations tend to be less than optimally efficient and tend to adopt new techniques slowly. After all, the economies of large scale production and the maximization of productivity through the specialization of tasks are both lost. This is true; however, Belloc and Chesterton would argue that small units of production encourage greater and deeper human interaction. The question then is this? Is it better to have more expensive goods possessed of less then the most advanced technology if the overall system draws people together? Or is it better to have low priced goods possessed of the most advanced technology made and distributed in ways that break down human bonds?
Belloc and Chesterton are certainly correct that their plan will promote local control of the means of production, but it will also require local control of the access to local markets. Should local people be allowed to elect one model or the other? Should far off central authorities have the right to force a unwanted model on local citizens? Is it a form of stealing to take away local control of the economy from the local people?
These opening paragraphs on the Seventh Commandments stimulate more questions than set out hard answers. Perhaps later paragraphs in the Catholic Catechism will provide more clarity.............. (prepared by Hugh Murray on 1/20/2010)
Excesses of Some Black Leaders May Illuminate a Wider Black Problem
In an earlier essay (from this series of essays, found on page - gen_09d.html ), the immoderate, ill-considered, anti-social behavior of three black leaders was discussed.
Following from that essay, the question then for this essay is this: is such immoderate, ill-considered, anti-social behavior common among large numbers of young and middle aged black men? In other words, is this problem limited to a few or is it more widely manifest? Blacks represent about 15% of the American population and yet America’s prison inmates are 50% black. This is a profound disconnect. America’s judges try to frighten first time offenders into changing their behavior, by putting them on probation. Imprisonment is not their first option. Prison is costly, and it tends to harden the hearts of those who are incarcerated. Given this fact, it says a lot about black men, when they don’t seem to experience a change of heart after getting a “wake up call” by the judge handling their first arrest.
There seems to be a need for special programs to curb these urges toward immoderate, ill-considered, anti-social behavior and to make sure “wake up calls” issued by authorities are not ignored.
Little black boys grow up into men. So what change can be introduced into the kindergarten and grade school curriculum that will counter the urges these youngsters experience that send them toward excess?
The Roman dramatist, Publius Terentius Afer (sometimes called “Terence”), urged “moderation in all things”. Somehow this maxim, which leads to, if not a happy life, at least a contented life, has to be ingrained into these black youngsters. They have to gain a degree of self control that they currently lack. They have to be able to step outside their immediate set of feelings and examine how the behavior, they are drawn toward, will impact themselves and others: friends, relatives, strangers, and even those not yet born.
Some people learn right behavior by reading the great works of literature, others learn by being told about how to behave by respected adults, still other learn by seeing others suffer the consequences of bad behavior, still others only learn from experiencing consequences themselves. Currently grade schools generally use lectures and written material to instruct students. In predominately black schools, this approach seems to be failing. Perhaps the last two approaches , learning from the hard experiences of others and/or experiencing hard consequences personally, would be more effective.
It is always easy to state a hypothetical, but how is this to be implemented? Perhaps in every majority black high schools a solitary confinement room could be constructed where offending students might be punished. Students who commit major rules violations would be filmed having their violation: first, reviewed by the school administration, second, filmed being placed in solitary, and third, filmed coming out later. This film would be shown to grade schoolers so they could see “consequences” in action. If the local court would allow cameras; the same could be done for more major offenses being handled in court. All this might require some adjustment to America’s rules on privacy?
Grade schoolers might be subjected to a wide array of punishments for any anti-social acts. These punishments could include: accurately copying pages from great works, practicing penmanship by writing out a short sentence twenty or thirty times, cleaning the floor in a hallway, bathroom, home room, etc. Here punishment is connected to acts. It would also be good if these punishments were performed while other students were around to see the punishment.
Regarding teaching “impact on others” many short films could be made showing the impact on others from anti-social behavior. Some examples might included:
First, a bullet fired in fun goes through a window and hits someone in the back causing lifelong paralysis;
Second, an impatient visitor rips open a stuck door in an apartment destroying the door jam, causing the apartment to fail an occupancy inspection, making the apartment unrentable, and triggering the spiral of decline that leads a building into slum status,
Third, a fling with the 13 year old girl living next door can lead to the out of wedlock birth of an underdeveloped baby who has great difficulty surviving in a neo natal unit;
Fourth, cutting other drivers off in traffic or changing lanes rapidly without a signal can frighten other drivers and cause bad accidents,
Fifth, showing the downward spiral of repeated incarcerations that result when an offender ignores a judge’s forbearance following a first offense and refuses to reform his life, etc.
These films might be shown again and again to high risk grade schoolers.
As everyone's mother use to say "a ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure".............. (prepared by Hugh Murray on 1/30/2010)
Correcting America's Warped Economy - The political leadership in America has allowed the economy to become very unbalanced.
.... Important Concepts and Caveats .....
A quick review of some underlying principles should precede the discussion of specifics.
1) Specialization is very important if individuals, corporation, and countries are going to improve their situations. Under this concept, societal units should become very good at doing a few tasks and then provide for their other needs by purchasing goods and services produced by others.
2) Balancing, as in "balance of payments", is another important concept. Under this concept, over time all actors in this exchanging of goods and services must settle up. Those who gather more because they have more desirable offerings grow richer while the rest either find new specializations or grow poorer.
3) Change, retraining, and relocation are constantly involved in this as various actors become more facile in a particular specialization and displace other less capable providers of that particular specialization.
4) An important caveat must be mentioned. At the national level it is important to remember the observations of David Ricardo, the English economist who wrote in the early 1800's. He pointed out that counties that wish to sell into the international trading system but repeatedly demonstrate they don't wish to purchase very much of any other country’s goods and services, have to be considered pariahs and forced out of the system.
5) A second important caveat is for smaller societal units. Specialization can create problems for people of limited intelligence and/or education. These people can lead productive, fulfilled lives under specialization, but their work environment can't be filled with excessive change and the requirement that new tasks and skills be constantly mastered. The presence of large numbers of such people in a societal unit, such as a large neighborhood or even a whole city, would indicate that some protective barriers might be needed for that neighborhood or city. These barriers would be justified because of the significat sociatial benefit derived from having steady work for the men in the protected area to do. The frequent changes mandated by the workings of specialization might thus be muted, or negated completely, for these people of limited ability.
.... How Adjustments Correct Imbalances .....
When one societal entity finds its specialized offerings are not in enough demand to justify the goods and services it wants to consume, that societal entity has to do one of the following:
1) sell assets to make up the shortfall,
2) create certain goods and services themselves that were formerly purchased even if certain quality or efficiency factors are lost,
3) find new offerings of goods and services that others might be willing to consume,
4) become the object of charitable gifts from the more successful actors, and /or
5) tighten their belts and stop consuming so many goods and services particularly those created by others.
Ignoring the situation is not an option. Fortunately there is a natural tendency for these adjustments to occur in societal units. An invisible hand exists that steers families, corporation, and countries to do the right thing with regard to specialization. When imbalances occur people at all levels make adjustments. Unemployment can be a good indicator that more needs to be made at home. Unemployment means less income and therefore less ability to make purchases from outsiders. It also means more free time is available to create a wider variety of good and services at home.
.... What's Been Happening in America? .....
America over the last twenty or thirty years has been covering over the signs that point to excess consumption of goods and services produced by others. America did this through the use of debt, particularly individual, family, bank, and governmental debt. This debt was made possible by interest rates that were kept artificially low for 20 plus years, this process caused:
1) the value of real property to escalate rapidly,
2) gave people a false sense of well being,
3) seemed to put home ownership within reach of people who had formerly been renters,
4) caused builders to go on a binge creating twice as many homes as were needed (with many of these too large given the reduced borrowing capacity of many prospective owners particularly once the economic down turn began),
5) created a surge of temporary employment in the construction industry that masked the huge employment losses in manufacturing, etc.
Additionally the two wars in the Islamic world helped to mask the underlying economic problem by bolstering employment with military personal and military contractors.
War employment and construction employment are both sporadic and both require lots of capital for each job day created. Therefore they are far less desirable than the long term, steady employment found in manufacturing and/or in providing widely used or essential services.
.... What Changes are Needed? .....
So how should this shameful situation be dealt with in this difficult time? Although the official unemployment rate is 10%; if discouraged workers are counted, it is at 18%. The steps needed to reverse this situation are really pretty obvious:
1) Long term jobs that are now being done overseas must come back to America. These would include: telephone service centers, labor intensive manufacturing, engineering, medical, and law support jobs that have been out-source. Of course, these jobs have to come back in such a way as to frustrate the regulatory burden that helped cause them to move originally. Perhaps, this might involve the creation of “regulation free” economic development zones in and near each city. These would allow a returning facility to set up with only local wage and safety laws to worry about. Federal OSHA, NLRB, and wage and hour inspectors would have to stay away.
2) The financial service industry facilitated these excesses, particularly in real estate. Several problems were present that allowed this misbehavior:
.. a) the banks and brokerages were allowed to merge, this allowed the banks' FDIC guaranteed deposits to finance the risky trading and derivative activity. These two kinds of financial institutions must be kept apart so the instruments that move from bank to brokerage are subjected to the daylight of a mark to market process.
.. b) banks and brokerages were allowed to let their capital ratios grow excessively. When securities are owned by an institution with a 30:1 debt to equity ratio it only takes a 3% move in the value of these securities to destroy all the equity in the institution. Obviously ratios should be kept under 8:1 or 10:1. Of course, the profit potential of these firms will be greatly reduced when the total amount of securities that they own is reduced by a factor of 3. This will shrink the bonus pools available to pay those infamous Wall Street bonuses.
..c) the concept of “too big to fail” must be addressed. America needs big banks and big brokerages to do large deals, but these institutions must be operated in a transparent, simplified way using standard operating procedures which would allow a committee from the US Treasury to take over on one day's notice, notifying the failing institution’s shareholders that there would be a mark to the market process and they would eventually be paid what they were due over the next three years as the bank's assets were liquidated in an orderly way. The name of any liquidated institution would be prohibited from re-use for twenty five years. Financial innovations should be handled by smaller banks and brokerages where failure does not carry such system wide risks.
.. d) loans should only be initiated by regulated institutions, not by the “fly by night” players. All loan officers that initiate loans should be required to take courses on determining borrower suitability for the type and size of loan involved. Their compensation should not be tied significantly to the number, size or type of loan initiated.
.. e) banks holding insured deposits should make no more than 10% of their revenues from fees. Their business should be taking deposits and "making loans". Profits should come from the spread between interest earned and interest paid. Banks should not be making major parts of their profits by charging depositors and savers fees on their own money.
3) Savings must be favored over consumption. This means the Federal Reserves’ policy of adjusting the interest rate to suit the whims of Washington must be subordinated to the needs of the country as a whole. The people need to have a healthy savings rate. A healthy savings balance gives people a cushion against a “rainy day”and improves their overall confidence. (Perhaps a formula needs to be developed where the Fed's interest rate policy should aim at giving the typical 2 year CD buyer a rate of ((2% + the inflation rate) times 1.3). If the inflation rate was 1.5%, the target for the 2 year CD would about 4.6% which would give the average 2 year CD buyer 3% after tax (or 1.5% above the inflation rate)).
4) Obviously America's friends in Asia are going to be alarmed by these changes of policy. They have been buying US debt expecting that America was also going to be a long term buyer of their goods and services. The dislocations in their economies could be profound. So America needs to be open and forthright but firm. Hopefully hostilities can be avoided. Hopefully America's new policy favoring savings will allow for the steady repatriation of the 2 trillion of debt held by Asians.
5) America will be entering a period of austerity, so everyone will need to put some of their special perks and prerogatives on hold, For instance:
.. a) Social Security recipients should all give up 10% of their payments and forgo cost of living benefits till the Asian debt is repaid.
.. b) all federal employees making more than $40,000 should take a 10% pay cut with no cost of living increases till the Asian debt is repaid. Those making more than $100,000 should take a 20% cut.
.. c) major governmental changes should be put on hold till the Asian debt is repaid. Change is disruptive and costly, so stability is required until a new stasis is reached. This would put global warming and health care initiatives on hold.
6) As America got back to basics, making most of the things it uses, the pressure for Americans to always be at the cutting edge of technology would lessen. The need to constantly master new gadgets and learn new programs to keep ahead of every other nation would diminish. People should find themselves having to deal with less change, less retaining, and less relocation which in turn should led to less stress, less divorce, and stronger families.
Voila, a new day dawns. Who doesn't like mother's apple pie, peaches with cream, Chevrolets, and the American flag.? ...................(prepared by Hugh Murray on 3/12/2010)
Different Presidents Handle Conflict Differently - It is interesting to note the different approaches employed by different US Presidents to bring conflict to a conclusion.
Presidents have few tools at their disposal to deal with conflict: 1) they can use words to influence their supporters and opponents, these words can be public speeches but they can also use private messages, 2) they can use pressure tactics that do not rise to the level of physical violence, and 3) of course they can advocate open warfare or, as is more popular today, go to war without the approval of Congress. Of course, Presidents often use two or three of these tools simultaneously.
To better understand the different uses of these tools, it is best to focus on examples from the opposite ends of the spectrum from words to violence:
1) President Lincoln was faced with a group of southern states that had pulled out of the union. His response was to use positive rhetoric with massive violence and no negotiation. His approach, of course, killed and maimed a lot of people, left group hatred at such a high level that centuries will be required to reconcile things, but he also left America with some of the most uplifting, memorable political statements imaginable,
2) President Reagan was faced with a Cold War that had been going on for many years. He wished to bring it to and end, but he knew that open violence was really not an option because of both side had adopted MAD. So Reagan adopted a reverse strategy from Lincoln. He led with harsh rhetoric but engaged in back channel conversations with new younger leadership in the USSR. This approach was reinforced with threats to checkmate MAD using strategic defense. The multi-faceted strategy led to the famous meeting at Rychivich and the end to the Cold War.
Will Reagan's word survive as long as Lincoln's? Probably not after all "conceived in liberty" has a ring that "evil empire" lacks, but the level of good will that exists between the typical Russian and typical American is probably already higher than the level of good will that exists between the typical black American and the typical white American.
Which is more important the engendering of good will or the creation of good rhetoric? Each person must decide for himself, but that decision should be informed by a proper moral framework. Jesus came to earth and commanded that people love one other he didn't command that even His great words be recorded verbatium. Although the King James version of Bible is a great treasure for mankind, the love and goodwill exhibited between and among people is far more important...................(prepared by Hugh Murray on 3/12/2010)
A Different Way to Look at and Deal with Sin
.In the past, these essays have focused on individual, specific faults. While this is a worthwhile approach, presented here is an alternative approach. This essay will deal with approaches to faults in general rather than specific faults.
One way faults can be divided is into two categories:
.1) faults that grow out of feelings or actions which are in other situations laudatory, and
.2) faults which are in no way related to laudatory actions.
Faults that grow out of or can be related to otherwise laudatory activity are such things as: gossip, coveting a neighbor’s wife, telling a falsehood, gluttony, drunkenness, sloth, etc. Let us review a few of these examples briefly to document their connection to laudatory activity. Gossiping grows out of the laudatory activity of socializing which creates and strengthens social institutions such as neighborhoods, the extended family, church groups, etc. Coveting a neighbor's wife grows out of man's nature inclination toward women which God created so that men and women might form families, have children, and thus form the most important building blocks of society, families. Telling falsehoods can grow out of man's natural, laudatory desire to avoid causing pain and keeping others, who have no "need to know", from receiving hurtful information about others. Overeating grows out of man's natural desire to eat and stay alive. Drunkenness grows of man's natural desire to break the tensions of life by having a few drinks with friends. Sloth grows out of man's natural and laudatory desire to rest, sleep, and relax, all activities which control stress, an enemy of good health.
Opposed to the forgoing faults, there are faults which have little or no connection to a laudatory activity. Such faults include: injuring or killing another person, stealing, heaping verbal abuse on others, etc. Although there are very unusual, very special circumstances that might allow such horrific acts like killing other people, generally these kinds of faults have no source except a simple evil use of a person's free will.
Dealing with these different types of faults require different strategies. If a fault is simply evil it must be essentially dealt with "cold turkey". The activity must be challenged quickly and rooted out. If a person is in the habit of mugging people of the street and stealing their money and leaving them battered in the gutter, there can be no gradual reformation.
The other kind of sins are almost impossible to drive out of one's life without a long term gradual program of attitude change. Should the 450 pound overeater attempt to reduce his consumption and take up exercise without talking to a doctor or joining Overeaters Anonymou? In other words, should he take some intermediate steps.
Of course, all sin of either category need to be handled with large doses of sacramental grace, particularly the grace of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and regular advice from either a confessor that knows the penitent’s situation; or perhaps a Spiritual Advisor might be employed.
When dealing with a fault associated with otherwise laudatory actions, it is very important that a few changed habits of life are adopted .
.1) sublimate bad behavior (or thoughts) with good behavior (or thoughts), this means that the fault should be replaced with good behavior; the woman who likes to gossip should not break off all contact with her friends, she should rather work at keeping her comments on pleasant and uplifting matters.
.2) practice moderation of thought and work at small changes that lead in the right direction; a rich man who has been slothful for many years should take time to investigate alternative activities once the decides to be active in life.
.3) Relax and let God speak through the events and people around; God is aware of these faults, these difficult situations. God is sending help, but this help is most likely to come in the people, events, and circumstances the sinner encountered in daily life.
.4) avoid the most difficult occasions of sin and substitute different activity; some encounters are so difficult, so likely to lead to sinful thoughts or acts they must be completely eliminated; a drunk who is trying to break the habit may need to break off all contact with his former drinking buddies, he must find new friends and begin going to several AA meetings per week.
This analysis only scratches the surface, hopefully it triggers thought in those who encounter it.
............. (prepared by Hugh Murray on 3/31/2010)
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