I have removed the search box because it was not working but the search box in the title bar seems to.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Another Economic Moralist

Deirdre McCloskey is a fascinating person. She used to be a Marxist. Now she is not. She used to be a man. Now she is not. She is outstandingly well informed on matters economic and matters historical. She also teaches English Literature. She’s an Anglican; but nobody is perfect.

Below is a clip from a lecture by her. I was interested to spot, in the audience, Daniel Dennet, Sam Harris and Peter Atkins. I guess this means that she is pretty well respected by many who do not agree with her.

Charles Murray - Again

Charles Murray is no theologian. He is a brilliant and perceptive social scientist. And, as such, he has examined a colossal amount of data and come to some very challenging conclusions. He observes relationships between behaviours and outcomes and can back them up with very impressive statistics.

He observes that “successful” people – not necessarily rich people, but people who perceive themselves to be living worthwhile lives – abide by conventional, conservative, traditional behaviours.

He wishes that they would preach what they practise. They invest in Faith, Family, Community and Work.

Arthur C Brooks is an economist and a Catholic. He has a lot to say about Free Markets and Morality. They both work for The American Enterprise Institute. ACB is the president.

The USA is hugely blessed with organisations like AEI: The Mises Institute, The Cato Institute, The Acton Institute, all standing up for free markets and stressing the role of morality in political and economic affairs. Check them out. To be fair to us Brits, we have The Adam Smith Institute and a few others – more later perhaps.

Here is a clip featuring wise words from Charles Murray.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Virtue - 2

 I blogged recently about thrift, hard work and honesty – very important virtues, the ones which contribute most to wealth creation. If you care about poor people, you should care about wealth creation; just as, if you care about sick people, you should care about promoting healthy behaviour. Sanitation has contributed more to health than antibiotics, than transplants.

The most unpopular virtue is Chastity. It is not the virtue upon which the Church places the most importance; they are Faith, Hope and Charity. But, sex being the powerful urge it is, we dislike Chastity more than any other; and the enemies of the Church are frank about it.

The Church teaches that all sex outside monogamous marriage is sinful. In today’s society there are many opportunities for sex outside marriage. We are to eschew all these opportunities, whether heterosexual or homosexual. That makes the Church just mean.


I have come to believe that Chastity is like Thrift. Thrift is a virtue. Yes, but who is the primary beneficiary? – the thrifty one. The chaste one benefits from Chastity before anyone else. I speak from bitter experience; and it’s easy, I know, for me to speak. One of the few benefits of being in my seventh decade is the decline in the urgency of the sexual instinct. Just as an ex-addict rejoices in having broken the shackles of addiction while regretting the wasted years, so the erstwhile libertine regrets his self-indulgence. I know what unchastity has cost me. Mea culpa. 

Saturday, 23 November 2013


Some of my heroes are historians; some are economists. All of them are moralists. What hope is there for us until we are all moralists? It will not be a better world until we are better men and women. Leftists have a fantasy about “new men”, a new breed of humans which will come into being when society is remade in according to their notions. We conservatives have a melancholy understanding that men are “fallen”. Good men make a good society not vice versa.

Melancholy does not mean pessimistic. We believe that although all men are fallen, each man can be improved. All men can desire that all men should be better than they are.

Moral philosophy is far more important than economics. Moral philosophy is about generosity vs greed, kindness vs cruelty, honesty vs deception. Our tradition teaches us about a range of virtues, some of them very practical, practical in the sense that they make our lives better and that they make us better, sometimes simultaneously. I want to make the case for three traditional virtues: Thrift, Honesty and Hard Work. A moment’s introspection will show that a society in which these virtues are prevalent is superior to one in which they are not. You and your neighbours will be better off if you and they are thrifty, honest and hard working.

Politics? Practical morality. The conservative view is that whatever encourages these virtues will benefit us all. Therefore policies which reward thrift, honesty and hard work are good, those which discourage them are bad.

Let’s have a look at each in turn.

Thrift. Our ancestors understood that to indulge every material whim would imperil your future. The “rainy day” was very likely to come about. So, deferment of gratification was good for you and your family. On a societal scale, if you saved and invested you would do well for yourself and your family; but you would then also be in a position to provide work for those outside your family. As an entrepreneur, one of my greatest gratifications was to contribute to economies outside of my own family. In truth, an individual can hardly do more good than by giving work to his neighbours.

The Marxist idea that the entrepreneur exploits his employees is absurd. They exploit him by being paid before they have ever contributed to his profits.

Honesty. It is impossible to eliminate dishonesty. But every dishonest act encourages distrust. Distrust hurts the distrusted. Who will do business with someone who has cheated them?

Hard Work. It is very easy to spot slacking. When you do you are indignant. Often you perceive that the slacker is, in effect, gaining an undeserved benefit from your effort. This is true whether you are a customer or a co-worker.

Free markets reward thrift, honesty and hard work. Socialism does not; it takes from those who have and gives to those who have not. Socialism is the opposite of Justice, the idea of deserts – virtue deserves its reward.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

It’s Ideas That Matter – Not Cultures

I have been watching a debate which featured Ibn Warraq, a brave and intelligent man, the author of Why I am not a Muslim.

He was proposing the motion that Western Culture or Civilisation is superior to the competition, a view with which I had considerable sympathy. However, musing upon the debate I began to feel that the motion was not well formed. I decided that what are important are ideas not cultures. Any human being can claim any idea or belief, no matter where he lives or when.

Let me say immediately that I am not a relativist. I am firmly of the opinion that some ideas and beliefs are benign whereas others are the opposite. I believe that there exists an absolute standard of Truth, although it often extremely difficult to determine which beliefs and ideas are true and which are not. Only in Mathematics do absolute proofs exist. All the same, I am as sure that gratuitous cruelty is bad as I am that 2+2=4. No culture can claim to own either of these truths.

I am increasingly of the opinion that debates as to whether one culture is superior to another are likely to be unproductive at best. I think it can be very productive to debate, for example, free markets vs command economies; and in this case I am sure that free markets win hands down – Logic and History are on my side. The contrary view depends on the “wouldn’t it be nice if...” argument, which isn’t an argument. It wears nappies.

In the debate I was watching Ibn Warraq and his supporters listed a number of merits of western culture: respect for individuals, the rule of law, the scientific method and many others. They claimed that these virtues were characteristic of “The West” – and it may be that a majority of westerners are supportive of them. Needless to say, the opposition immediately reposted with examples of western behaviour that flouted these virtues. Marxism and Nazism were invented in the west. The crusades were a bad thing.

I found myself in the uncomfortable position, as a champion of the west, of having to admit that the opposition’s points were well made. So I have resigned. I still maintain my right to prefer living in the UK to living in Iran or North Korea but I am no longer going to wear the western uniform. Picture me in dungarees covered with badges: Free Markets Rock, I Love the Catholic Church, Abortion Sucks, Social Justice is a Stupid Idea, Taxation is Theft, Democracy is Dangerous, Death to Tyrants, Up with the Scientific Method, Down with Materialism, Slavery is Wicked, Freedom of Speech, Jesus Saves.

I feel lightheaded with freedom. But it is a burdensome position. It requires me to know as much as I can about Economics, History and Moral Philosophy. All the same, I would rather bear the burden than vote the “Western” Ticket.

If this were a book, there would have to be a chapter on Good Economics and one on Bad Economics; one on Wars (Just and Unjust). Each chapter would have to be awash with History. Who first had this brilliant idea? Where did that ghastly notion come from? Every good and every bad idea is like a baton in a relay race.

Who knows how many times the wheel was invented? – possibly only once; it never made it to the New World before the Europeans got there. It was a very good idea; no one culture can claim it.

Phonemic analysis was a very clever idea, namely that all the words in a spoken language are made up of a small number of sounds (in English about 40). One, only one, very clever Phoenician realised that to write any sentence in any language all you needed was approximately one symbol for each sound. Voila, the alphabet! Reading and writing became fantastically easy. All alphabets are related. The Chinese did not adopt the idea. Reading and writing Chinese is phenomenally difficult. Now it would be absurd for any culture to claim the idea of an alphabet. The inventor has been dead for thousands of years; his invention was the ancestor of thousands of alphabets.

A symbol for zero made arithmetical calculations spectacularly easier than they were for Pythagoras, genius though he was. Some anonymous Indian invented zero. Arab muslims adopted the idea and we got it from them. Zero belongs to the world.

It may be that monotheism was an Egyptian insight. The Hebrews took it on. Polytheism is now as incoherent to theists as it is to atheists. The Jewish idea that God is not part of the world any more than Jane Austen is a character in Pride and Prejudice is very profound. Think about it!

Regrettably, bad ideas get taken up, just like good ones. Marxism (invented in the west) spread around the world like smallpox. Millions upon millions died as a result. Global warming hysteria (invented in the west) has not killed as many; but preventing the spread of industrialisation to our brothers and sisters in the Third World is culpable stupidity. DDT hysteria (invented in the west) has been responsible for millions of deaths. Islam (invented in Arabia) is a powerful religio-political system; but it doesn’t seem to work, at least in the sense of helping people to live together in liberty. Muslims kill other muslims in alarming numbers – and not just other muslims.

Cultures are not homogeneous. They are so far from being so that perhaps the term is practically meaningless. In the state where I reside abortion is, to all intents and purposes, a form of birth control. Millions of innocents have been done to death for being inconvenient. Millions of citizens of that state regard this situation as being iniquitous. In what sense do I belong to any “culture” which permits this?

I am fascinated by the fact that many ideas seem to belong in families. For example, someone who is a Global Warming sceptic is quite likely to be a free marketeer. Someone who is dissatisfied with Darwinian Theory is quite unlikely to be a socialist.

Unhappily, modern states largely monopolise the schools in the territories they control, and thus are in a position to exercise undue influence over the pupils in those schools. Ruthless governments impose thought control, which increases homogeneity. Perhaps North Korea does have a single culture. God help them! Political Correctness has a similar effect in many countries.

Do you like Islamic “Culture”? Do you like Western “Culture”? No!