Sunday, January 31, 2010


Do You Love Big Ben (Bernanke)?

In one of His most famous and controversial teachings, Jesus instructs His followers to love their enemies:
27"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29If 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. 30Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. 34And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. 35But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6: 27-36)
So for me, I don't really have any "enemies" in my personal life. It's probably partly because I'm a consultant and so I don't have any corporate rivals or a jerk boss I can't stand.

But there still is a temptation for me to hate the official power brokers in DC and other heads of state and militaries around the world, for all the carnage that they unleash on innocent people. If my worldview is correct, then the world could be incredibly better on so many levels, if these guys (and a few gals) would abandon their lust for power.

So in that context, it's a useful exercise as a Christian to work yourself up into at least trying to love someone like Ben Bernanke. (Or if you don't really have a strong feeling for him one way or the other, try Barack Obama or George Bush or Dick Cheney or Kim Jong Il.)

So for Bernanke, even though I am positive he is wrecking the US financial system and I am 90% confident that he is at least vaguely aware of what he is doing, I occasionally will try to recalibrate my indignation by stepping back and trying to understand "how could this have happened?" And in the process of doing so, I end up being a lot less angry. So I think (as usual) Jesus' command wasn't some pointless task of obedience that He threw out there for us; if you actually try to love your enemies, you gain a much greater understanding of how the world works. (And note I use that common phrase quite deliberately--in an important sense the ruler of the world is Satan, and it's important to analyze how he manipulates things without focusing your judgment on the weak people who facilitate his plans.)

OK then, if you're starting out in a fury and you think there's no way in the world you could ever sincerely have feelings of sympathy and compassion for someone like Ben Bernanke--and yet you are a Christian and intellectually know that you should--here are some methods that I use.

First, notwithstanding John Steinbeck's theory in East of Eden, I don't think we should assume that a particular adult who is doing really evil things, came out of the womb with no conscience. Steinbeck may be right that some people just never really had a conscience, but I think that's too easy and incorrect when trying to understand the development of adults who do astonishingly wicked things. So even though I haven't researched it, I'm willing to say that Benny Bernanke was a cute little kid who played with kittens and read Moby Dick to shut-ins every other Saturday at the nursing home.

Second, realize that Bernanke probably faces far more constraints on his actions than you realize. C'mon, do you really think the most powerful bankers and other men in the world, would sit back with bated breath to see what a former Princeton econ chair decides with regard to the fate of the world economy? So when you are trying to interpret some of his actions--such as bailing out foreign banks--keep in mind that part of that might be Bernanke trying to buy himself some friends to give himself more options. It doesn't make those actions right, but my point is simply that we don't really know what's motivating him. I don't for one second believe we're seeing the maximization of Bernanke's utility function, where the two inputs are his paramaters for distaste of inflation and the "output gap," but on the other hand it's probably also not correct to view Bernanke as sitting in his quarters twirling a mustache and saying moo-hoo-ha-HA!

Third, realize that whatever awful decisions Bernanke is "forced" to make right now--and which he himself probably recognizes as placing his own career / family's survival above the interests of average people--he probably didn't realize that, going into things. He must have been an incredibly ambitious and very talented guy, to even be a candidate for Fed chief. He probably was very familiar with previous Fed actions and thought he could do a better job, or at least thought he would do at least a good a job as any of the other people in the running.

For the above point, consider your own job experiences. Haven't you ever been disillusioned once you got into a job, and actually became somewhat disappointed (or even disgusted) with how it "made" you act? For example, I used to have this hallowed conception of the mighty Peer Review Process for journal articles. I was picturing scientific economists sending journal articles into an editor, who would then distribute them to the world's experts on the subject. The experts would spend days carefully vetting the submission, reproducing its claims and subjecting it to all sorts of stress tests to judge the robustness of its results. After such a grueling process, only the most airtight articles would see the light of day. And if any economics professors are reading this right now, I hope I gave you a good belly laugh. (I'm not even talking about the CRU email scandal; I'm talking about regular academic discourse here. In practice referees don't have nearly enough time to provide more than a cursory line of defense against erroneous journal submissions.)

So for Bernanke (or Obama or Bush) think of how much "on the job" training he must have received. Whatever promises (implicit or explicit) he made in order to get the job, he had no idea what certain powerful people were going to ask of him. It wouldn't surprise me if, in reality, Bernanke's true job is to take his marching orders from other people, and then come up with the way to sell it to the financial markets so it sounds like a coherent plan. Now even if that's true, note that Bernanke isn't a complete puppet. He always has the option of pushing the boundaries of what his handlers want him to say or do, because ultimately it would look really weird if all of a sudden his brakes didn't work next Tuesday. So once he got into power and (let's suppose) realized the people "coaching" him weren't doing their level best to help average Americans, even if he wanted to repent at that point, it would be pretty difficult. It would be very very very easy--and I bet many of us have thought like this in some of our jobs--for him to say, "This whole organization is going down the wrong path, but I'll do what I can to check its worst excesses and avoid disaster. Mr. X and Y and Z are some seriously bad influences, but I can steer things away from what they want." I'm not saying that is what's going on, but it could be.

I'll stop here because I think you get the point. As crazy as it sounds, try to work up some sympathy for the Fed chief. Jesus told us to.

This post has completely messed with my mind.

But somewhere between the kittens and the twirled moustache, I am left with only one question: at what point do we demand Bernanke stand up and take responsibility for his actions?

It cannot be Christian to sanction weakness in someone whom you know can do much better.
I didn't say sanction, I said love. You can love someone and not condone his or her actions.
My nondemonstrative means of loving is to imagine a giant upside-down bowl of yellow rubber (think Crocs) floating above each person or group in need of care. When evil approaches, the bowl drops down momentarily and deflects it, then bounces back up. Protection bowls cover entire cities as well. Prayers or angels or elementals, whatever you want to call it, are created by the energies of people wishing others well.
Ok, then, 'love' but not sanction. So there is no point you try to get them to change?

If you know someone is planning to rob a convenience store, do you just 'love' them or do you try and talk them out of it? If they rob the convenience store, do you just stand there and 'love' them or do you stop them?
SNK asked:

So there is no point you try to get them to change?

I'm not being defensive, I'm genuinely curious: What makes you think that is my position?

I write articles ad naseum saying the Fed is wrecking the economy. Even in this very post I said that. Of course I wish Bernanke would do things differently.

Really, did I say something unclear? (I know that sounds sarcastic but it's not meant to be. This happens a lot when I wrote on these matters so I want to know if there's a better way to approach it.)
"So for me, I don't really have any "enemies" in my personal life."

Come on, Bob, it's easy to make enemies right here on the Internet. And then you get to love them!

(BTW, at Mass this morning, the Gospel reading was from Luke, where Jesus got an entire synagogue so enraged at him that they chased him out and tried to throw him off a cliff. There was a guy who really knew how to make people mad.)
Off topic: Jeffrey Tucker just compared you to Murray Rothbard. Well done sir. I can't wait to see that textbook.
Bob, speaking of Christianity, where do you stand on this:

Might it not have some relevance regarding the current catastrophe?

Hey Gene, how's that PhD coming along?
Bob, aside from how following Jesus' teaching on loving your enemies enhances your understanding of why bad people bahave as they do, have you considered how such undiscriminating spreading around of your love undermines the meaning and value of love in a manner analogous to the negative effect on value of an increase in the supply of a commodity?
I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.
"undiscriminating spreading around of your love undermines the meaning and value of love in a manner analogous to the negative effect on value of an increase in the supply of a commodity?"

Right. Because everyone knows love is a commodity that we buy and sell on the "love market."
Why not assume that Bernanke thinks he is doing what is best for the economy and just has bad economic theory?

Since this is you Sunday post, I'll offer my own understanding of what is happening. Capitalism has generally required a Christian understanding of human nature and property rights. Socialism takes the opposite view on both. When people abandon Christianity they naturally gravitate to socialism. There are exceptions, but the trend is general.

And traditional Christianity tends to humble people. Again, everyone can point to exceptions, but the general rule is the more radical Christian a person is the more humble he is about what he, and all humanity can accomplish. Non-christians lack that brake on ambition and arrogance.

In my experience, the most common cause of highly intelligent people doing really stupid things is arrogance. They think too highly of themselves and what they can accomplish. Socialism is the heighth of arrogance.
Andy wrote:

Bob, aside from how following Jesus' teaching on loving your enemies enhances your understanding of why bad people bahave as they do, have you considered how such undiscriminating spreading around of your love undermines the meaning and value of love in a manner analogous to the negative effect on value of an increase in the supply of a commodity?

Andy, no, I hadn't thought of that. Should I do the same with my production of articles on Austrian economics? Or any time I try to indiscriminately spread around truth?
I really like how several Austrian economists and high profile investment managers have been able to tear to shreds Bernanke's theories on the Depression to reveal just how flawed his thinking is. But it appears that he's going to just continue to print money regardless of the consequences. I read a good article summarizing John Embry of Sprott Asset Management's view on Bernanke at that also talks about the outlook for the price of gold because of the Federal Reserve's policies.
I was on board with your advice and reminder this morning. I am letting this stuff get to me a bit and have tried to limit my exposure, just to keep my blood pressure under control.....and then I read this....

"While we extend middle-class tax cuts in this budget, we will not continue costly tax cuts for oil companies, investment fund managers and those making
over $250,000 a year," Obama said. "We just can't afford it."

It's just too expensive to let people keep their own property. Arrgg!
What Bob is saying is what God told us to do, and what God's attitude toward us is - hate sin, not the sinner. I also see people confused between "love", that warm mushy feeling, and "love" as is it most often used in the Bible as an action verb - compassion and mercy, bestowed selflessly upon someone else in the form of sacrificing and giving of ones self for others. "For God so "loved" ... that He "gave." That is God's way and the way we are to try to emulate. It's the way that yields the best result, but we never listen. The statistics vary considerably, but even at the high end, the average annual income in Afghanistan is less than $1,000. Just something for my fellow Christians to think about the next time they make their mortgage payments, car payments, boat payments, 52" flat screen TV payments ... "We" (the US Fed Gov) are about to spend an additional $66 billion dollars on harming our enemies. Doesn't anyone believe that $66 billion toward food, clothing, shelter, medicine, might be a better deterrent? I'm not advocating forced wealth redistribution either. I'm talking about voluntary charity. On the flip side, if the government IS going to rob me anyway, I'd much rather see the money going to help others rather than murder them.
I apologize for my comments sounding contentious—they were not intended to be. And of course I have read the other material.

I guess I consider 'love' to be more of a passive and inward focused state (being accepting, breaking down the barriers in one's own mind to reach that stage), as opposed to an active or outwardly focused state (constructing something outside your own mind—as in writing articles, sit-ins or chanting protests at the Fed). At least that is how 'love' was taught to me: a surrender and acceptance. But I cannot accept what I see as evil—I cannot love evil.

The God of the old testament was active. He smote many a sinner but most people have a lot of trouble reconciling those actions with the Jesus-love of the new testament. I see putting yourself out there and speaking up against Bernanke as this active thing, whatever you define it as.

So I guess it’s all in the basic assumption of what ‘love’ is, and what that other thing is.

Also, my Christian concept of humility prevents me from assuming I can force any effect on this world. If what you write and do has any effect, it is because God allows it to have an effect, no? I speak out against Bernanke not to be Godly or loving. I have no control over the Godliness part. I am human and must live in a state of grace, which is a gift from God. (It’s either accept that or live in ignorance/torment.) My human ranting is allowed because I live within this state of grace, but I don’t consider it to be done out of love.
"Since this is you Sunday post, I'll offer my own understanding of what is happening. Capitalism has generally required a Christian understanding of human nature and property rights. Socialism takes the opposite view on both. When people abandon Christianity they naturally gravitate to socialism. There are exceptions, but the trend is general. "

OK, I just don't see the evidence backing this claim. The Catholic Church was generally anti-commerce and banking until at least the Renaissance. There are numerous "Christian Democratic" parties in Europe that are vaguely socialist in nature. There were a number of Catholic monastic orders that were frankly communist in their organization.

And, of courses, all of the early socialist political theorists saw themselves as Christians. Furthewrmore, many of the leading libertarian thinkers were atheists -- Mises, Rand, Hayek, Rothbard. Now, I'm certainly not trying to say atheism is essential to supporting the free market, or that being a Christian forbids a laissez faire stance, but only that you're categorization here seems to ignore much of the evidence.
Two points:

To Gene: Catholicism does not equal Christianity. Many folks, like myself, feel that Catholicism has perverted Christianity.
To Bob: Nice post. How about "Love the sinner, hate the sin"?

"Catholicism does not equal Christianity."

Gee, Steve, I was unaware of the existence of Protestantism or Eastern Orthodoxy until you made this point.

"Many folks, like myself, feel that Catholicism has perverted Christianity."

Yes, and many folks, like Eric Voegelin, think evangelicals are not Christians at all but Gnostic heretics. The point being?

I could have gone on and on, listing lots of Protestant exceptions as well (and I did list some, like the Christian Socialist parties). The Anabaptists were out-and-out Communists. Martin Luther referred to merchants as "domestic robbers." Do you want me to keep going? I can probably do so for hours.

In any case, Steve, unless you want to kick Jesus out of Christianity along with all of the Catholics, fundamentalist's point (the poster named "fundamentalist") seems to also lack evidence in the words of Jesus himself, you know, "blessed are the poor" and rich men squeezing through needles' eyes, and all that.

Fundamentalist was making a broad generalization that "Christian = capitalist" and "Atheist = socialist", although he admitted a few exceptions.

I was making the point that the exceptions are massive, perhaps massive enough to be the rule!
Gene, point well taken.

An observation I have made (of course I am not the first) is that the "scriptures" (whatever they may be) have been interpreted a thousand different ways and a person could easily argue any point he wanted to make with direct quotations.

Of course I subscribe to the interpretation that God gave us Free Agency (the antithesis of coercive collectivism) and that choices have consequences.

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