Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I saw this story yesterday while searching different blogs:

U.S. religious knowledge survey

Especially troubling is this bit about half way down:

More than four-in-ten Catholics in the United States (45%) do not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion do not merely symbolize but actually become the body and blood of Christ.

There could be many reasons for this, none of which I'm going to speculate on in this post. We must continue to push for better religious education and take it upon ourselves to continue our own education. To know God is to love God.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Example of "Poor" Attitude

Pun Intended.

Here is great example of the general attitude of the "upper middle" class in America:

"We are the Super Rich" by Todd Henderson

Here is some wisdom for those who think this way:

"Advice for the 'Poor Rich'" by Brett Arends

I really don't have sympathy for Mr. Henderson's "inability" to get by. I, too, am not a fan of raising taxes, but part of the reason the government raises taxes to fund its programs is because people like Mr. Henderson are more concerned with themselves and their lifestyles than they are with the common good. The government has programs like unemployment insurance, social security, and food stamps because the upper middle class won't and don't do it themselves. The poor then demand it from politicians and a political party then gains support from those voters for promoting these policies. These programs and taxation then further the incentive to focus only on oneself because "the government is taking my money to take care of the poor."

I think the world would be better off if people like Mr. Henderson took care of their neighbors through charity and service rather than through taxation and governmental programs, but inevitably they don't. If the government dropped the taxes and the programs, they would use their wealth to support their private school, two car, nice house, 'spend whenever you feel the need' lifestyle rather than suffer a little self-sacrifice for the common good. They don't want lower taxes because they don't like government spending, they want lower taxes because they want to be able to spend the money that they make in they way they want to spend it.

Mr. Henderson should take the advice given by Mr. Arends, but what he really needs is a change in attitude. He should take a genuine inventory into what it is he really needs to support himself and his family and reconsider his position as a member of the "poor rich."

Most, if not all, of us are guilty of this attitude at some point in our life. Let us focus not on how "poor" we are in material goods, but rather how much we can help each other in obtaining heavenly goods (such as the virtues). It is up to each of us to change this attitude and encourage others to do the same.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Why Africa?

I have recently begun reading the book Heart of Darkness by Josef Conrad. It is a book about colonialism in Africa during the 19th and 20th centuries. I also recommend the book Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, another great book on a similar topic.

So why is Africa so poor?

Well, there are many reasons and I certainly do not know them all, but here is a simple and general economic and historical explanation:

Africa was once the heart of civilization. The empires of Egypt, Greece, and Rome all contributed to a wealthy North Africa. Egypt was a bread-basket in particular and the Mediterranean Sea was the heart of the trade between the East and the West. However, after the fall of the Roman empire things began to get worse, but the economic problem Africa faced was already deeply rooted.

A very large percentage of Africans worked in the agricultural sector in order to feed its people, as did much of civilization at the time. However, Africa in general is not very crop friendly. Aside from the fertile Nile River valley, Africa is covered by two large deserts one in the north and one in the south, has a massive jungle in the middle, and rocky highlands scattered about. In other words, it wasn't very conducive to increased agricultural production as Europe was or even America was.

This contributed to Africa's tribal makeup. Large cities and countries couldn't be developed because the tribes could not grow enough food to sustain a large population. Tribes were small and dedicated mostly to feeding its people. Having most of its people locked into doing agriculture, African tribes were unable to develop any kind of industrial occupations or even merchant occupations.

None of this mattered so much until the Enlightenment and the growth of European power. Europe suddenly became obsessed with wealth and power. It's agriculture production allowed workers to develop other trades and eventually the Feudal system that was somewhat similar to the African tribal system gave way to capitalism and huge urban centers. Nations scrambled for economic and military power and eventually took their battles to America and Africa.

The era of colonization began and exacerbated the situation in Africa. Both America and Africa were colonized, but their situations were completely different. In America, things ended so much better (although it is easy to forget how the natives were enslaved, killed, and driven out of their lands just as the Africans were). So what happened?

America was populated with Europeans looking for religious freedom and for economic opportunity. Africa was depopulated by the slave tribe and increased warfare. America was a land of huge potential growth because of its wealth of natural resources but also because of its more arable land. It drew in more resources, including African slaves and investment capital from Europeans, and was able to spur growth that eventually enabled its independence, with a lot of help from France of course.

Africa remained hopeless. Europeans killed, enslaved, and tortured the Africans. Their military technology was far superior and in order to increase the number of slaves without the casualties of warfare and disease they traded weapons to African tribes to kill and enslave each other. Now Africa was being depopulated by the slave trade, disease from Europeans, warfare with Europeans, and warfare with itself. Europeans took whatever Africa had of value…the gold from west Africa, the rubber from central Africa, and the ivory from east and south Africa. The most arable land in Africa (in the south and in Egypt) was taken first by the Dutch and then the British. Africans didn’t own anything.

And despite the end of colonization things haven’t changed much. A still very large proportion of Africans work for their subsistence in agriculture(If you go here you will see each country’s labor force makeup and you can see for yourself the strong tie between % of labor force in agriculture and poverty levels). There is little industry to speak of. Those of European descent still own most of the wealth. Much of Africa’s economy is shipping its valuable natural resources to industrialized nations to be made into household products that we buy. Africans still fight themselves with weapons supplied by us, the developed nations, in trade for their valuable resources.

There is also the factor that wealth leads to wealth, that is, the more money I have, the more I can create with it. Initial growth led to even more growth which led to even more growth and you get the picture. This sort of path dependence is mostly historical accident and did not necessarily need to be so. All the wealth of Africa was and is taken away by us.

This is also a black mark for capitalism and is why unbridled capitalism can be and is almost always evil. Exploitation occurs whenever possible, because agents act in their self-interest and are justified in doing so because of Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ excuse. The invisible hand may be efficient with lots of competition, but Africa was never even given a chance to compete. It got none of the pie. It lost before the game began all because its people relied heavily on subsistence agriculture and Europeans couldn’t get enough and now its people suffer because of it.

The truth is, capitalism is useless if its people aren’t virtuous. Social Justice requires that we act always for the common good. Capitalism can be the system to get us there, but not if you don’t do your part. Don’t think “I gotta get mine.” Instead look at your neighbor and think, “how can I help him?”

Africa really needs it.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Some questions I think worth reflecting on every day:

Am I okay with the society in which I live? If so, why is it okay? If not, why is it not okay? What can be better? How can I make it better? What have I done to make it better?

It's much easier to sit back and criticize politicians, or the media, or opposing political parties than it is to do something about what you believe in. It's easier to put the blame on someone else, than to look inward and crticize yourself. It's much easier to attempt to justify your actions than it is to admit fault.

It happens quite frequently when engaging in debates with opponents that we turn to ad hominem attacks rather than a dialogue of reason and faith. It is much easier to get defensive than it is to see another's point of view from their perspective. I am as guilty as anyone.

So if the world isn't as it should be, then why sit back and blame politicians? Why attack and demonize others? Why not instead of saying "you're an idiot," say 'I understand your point of view, here is mine...?" Bickering, arguing, imposing your beliefs on another, none of these effectively accomplish anything except division and alienation. No man can convert another convicted in his beliefs by being louder than him, or attacking his intelligence and no amount of policy will ever eradicate all that is wrong in a society.

Appealing to human hearts is our only option. We must love our enemies to win them over.

Gospel of Luke 6:27-36

[27] "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, [28] bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. [29] If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. [30] Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. [31] Do to others as you would have them do to you.

So instead of arguing, blaming, name-calling, etc., why not do something about the things you think are wrong in our society. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy are a great start.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Do deficits matter?

Well, that depends on who you ask.

So, why all the hubbub about deficits?

A government who has its own currency can never go bankrupt. Why?, because they can print money and print money and print money and never run out of their own currency to pay back their lenders (bond holders) even if these bond holders are foreigners (such as the Chinese). So no matter how much the government spends it will always be solvent. So why are deficits bad? Printing money that isn't based on any real value is inflationary. If the government prints a lot of money and puts it into circulation by spending it or even by dumping it out of helicopters then the inflation rate will most certainly rise and potentially go crazy.

A government who doesn't control its own currency and can't print their own money, can go bankrupt and therefore can't run up large deficits as is the case with the individual nations belonging to the European Union.

So the United States is in no danger of going bankrupt. It is in danger of run-away inflation by continuing to run up large deficits and increasing the public debt. At the moment there is no threat of inflation, deflation is much more of a concern. So fiscal austerity isn't a pressing need, in fact it may contribute to deflation, but in the long term, deficits aren't a good idea because of their inflationary consequences.

In my opinion, the government should run deficits during a recession but should run a surplus in a growing economy. Unfortunately, experience has been large deficits during both. The only surpluses the U.S. has run in the past 50 years have been in the late 90s during the Clinton administration.

Here is a graph of the last 50 years:

I imposed my own green line of what I think would be more ideal:

Eventually, we will have to cut down our deficits by increasing taxes or decreasing spending, or both. Is now the time? That's tough to say in the face of high unemployment and threats of deflation, but the current deficits certainly aren't feasible in the long haul.

Monday, September 6, 2010


To those of you who are curious as I is what the housing bubble looked like:

It is interesting and disappointing how our best economists and advisers failed to see this massive rise in housing prices. At any rate, the bubble occurred and popped quite violently just a little under 2 years ago.

Bubbles have long been a phenomenon of capitalism and have been the focus of fiscal and monetary policy for decades. The government's (treasury, fed, congress) goal is to smooth the business cycle and prevent bubbles or at least hamper them from getting too big before popping so as to prevent a total collapse of the economy. Sometimes, however, policy can do the opposite. Low interest rates and increased incentives to lend helped spur the taking on of debt in the form of mortgages on the consumption side and loans to build houses on the investment side. Businesses kept building houses, and people kept taking on debt to pay for them. Banks continued to allow these risky lending practices and no one stepped in to stop it.

Bubbles can't be prevented as long as there are risk-taking entrepreneurs and people or banks willing to fund their risks. Policy can help deter these bubbles through careful discretion and the tightening of credit, but even the best of intentions can have unintended consequences, i.e., it may deter the current bubble but unintentionally and unknowingly fuel another one.

Housing prices have fallen substantially since the peak of the bubble, but because we are in a jobless recovery, they will probably fall further until Americans can return to work and catch up with their debt.

Ben Bernanke's testimony on the crisis and housing bubble can be found here

Picture from

Friday, September 3, 2010

Health Care

Government-owned or subsidized health care is a hotly debated topic and one that sparks much fury from both sides of American politics. Here are some quotes from Bishop Nickless of Iowa that serve as a good reference point for both Catholics and non-Catholics on how to think about the situation:

"First and most important, the Church will not accept any legislation that mandates coverage, public or private, for abortion, euthanasia, or embryonic stem-cell research. As a corollary of this, we insist equally on adequate protection of individual rights of conscience for patients and health care providers not to be made complicit in these evils. A so-called reform that imposes these evils on us would be far worse than keeping the health care system we now have."

“Second, the Catholic Church does not teach that “health care” as such, without distinction, is a natural right. The 'natural right' of health care is the divine bounty of food, water, and air without which all of us quickly die. This bounty comes from God directly. None of us own it, and none of us can morally withhold it from others. The remainder of health care is a political, not a natural, right, because it comes from our human efforts, creativity, and compassion. As a political right, health care should be apportioned according to need, not ability to pay or to benefit from the care. We reject the rationing of care. Those who are sickest should get the most care, regardless of age, status, or wealth. But how to do this is not self-evident. The decisions that we must collectively make about how to administer health care therefore fall under 'prudential judgment.'”

“Fourth, preventative care is a moral obligation of the individual to God and to his or her family and loved ones, not a right to be demanded from society. The gift of life comes only from God; to spurn that gift by seriously mistreating our own health is morally wrong. The most effective preventative care for most people is essentially free – good diet, moderate exercise, and sufficient sleep. But pre-natal and neo-natal care are examples of preventative care requiring medical expertise, and therefore cost; and this sort of care should be made available to all as far as possible."

So, in summary, healthcare is not a natural right but a right that comes from our human efforts and innovation. It should be rationed according to need, not according to wealth, status, or age. This requires the use of our prudential judgment. Any health care that violates the gift of life is not true health care. Preventative care is a moral responsiblity of the individual out of respect and care for the gift of life and health given to us by God.

You can find the rest of the article here:



The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the employment data for the month of August today. The unemployment rate went up slightly to 9.6% despite the economy gaining 67,000 jobs in the private sector. More disparaging numbers are the unemployment rates of select populations. The unemployment rate for blacks is 16.3%, Hispanics 12.0%, while whites are at 8.7%.

These numbers are still really high and no true recovery can take place when a large portion of workers are without a job. The goal of most economies is to maintain a low and stable unemployment rate somewhere around 4-5%. As you can see, we still have a long way to go.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Lego of my money!

Here is a classic example of a major change in tastes/preferences a component of the demand curve. Lego's profits have soared since David Beckham admitted that he was building Lego's Taj Mahal. Free celebrity endorsement=huge jump in demand (shifting the curve up and to the right) increasing sales 663% and profits 63%. That's good news for Lego. Do you have your Taj Mahal Lego set?