Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Roger Bennett testimony

As mentioned in a previous post, I've been wanting to draw attention to pianist Roger Bennett's testimony from an old Cathedrals concert. I believe it was recorded in 1997.

and the second part:

In hindsight, it gives one a strange feeling to realize that this is a story of healing, yet Roger later died of the cancer that he is talking about.

But here's the great thing: Roger isn't primarily telling it as a healing story! Roger himself realizes that the most important story he needs to tell isn't about the remission of the cancer. One of the most remarkable moments in the video is the point where he says that he would not give up what he has learned about God and the increased sweetness of his relationship with Christ even if it meant permanent healing. He says, "This has been the best season of my life." He says, "I wouldn't trade it. If they said, 'Roger, we'll take away the cancer, but you've gotta give up your walk with Jesus that you've gained,' I'd keep the cancer."

Thus speak the saints of God who have been refined in the fire.

Yet Roger doesn't speak from a mountaintop. He talks to the people where they are. He knows there are likely to be people in the audience who have cancer and are not in remission. To them he says that he knows what it is like to be paralyzed with fear, and his message is, "God isn't paralyzed with fear."

That testimony is the introduction to Roger's song "Don't Be Afraid." And here's that song once again.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Be Not Afraid

The cry of the papacy of John Paul II was "Be not afraid!" It's an encouragement that Christians need. We're certainly not immune to fear, and especially not now in such uncertain times. My heart goes out to my brethren in the Catholic communion today as Benedict has resigned and as they await the news of who the new pope is to be.

But whether Protestant or Catholic, all of us as Christians are tempted to worry and fear at times.

In another of my oddball attempts to bring together southern gospel music and liturgical Christianity, I want to match JPII's exhortation "Be not afraid!" with this song by the justly famed late gospel pianist Roger Bennett--"Don't Be Afraid."

(Do click and watch the song soon, because many of these Youtube videos of Gaither-distributed music are being pulled or blocked, and a lot of my old gospel music post are now sadly music-less.)

This song had to grow on me. At first it seemed a little too loud and repetitive, but now it moves me greatly, perhaps because I've seen it in conjunction with Roger's testimony about his cancer, which comes on the same video. I hope to feature that in a later post.

Christian, don't be afraid.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Slavery as the alternative to the free market

Inspired by a good post by my W4 colleague Jeffrey S. on the minimum wage, I've been thinking a bit lately about anti-free-market approaches to economics and what makes people tick who advocate such approaches. In this comment (as in other posts on this blog) I said that the central error of such approaches is the idea that we can make something from nothing--that by simple fiat we can create prosperity. An obvious example is thinking that we can increase the real wealth and well-being of workers simply by legislating a rise in the minimum wage. Another example is thinking that we can simply (ta-da!) make things free by declaring that from now on they shall be free.

Yet I've encountered a surprising number of otherwise sensible people who are subject to the delusion that goodwill can create something from nothing. Often the form it takes is saying, "Why can't x just be cheaper?" though sometimes it literally takes the form of saying, "Why can't x just be free?" I must admit that I've never yet convinced anyone who can ask such a question to change his mind. But here are some thoughts on it. Pick a product or service. For the sake of keeping this interesting, let's make it a good and valuable product, even a terribly important product. Make it bread or heart medication. Or medical care. (Hmmm.) Now let's ask the question: Why can't it just be "made free"? And if we apply our common sense for the moment, the answer comes back: Because it actually costs something to grow, produce, and distribute that product or service. Because it isn't, in fact, free. But there's more: Even if bread fell from heaven, someone would have to go out and gather it and provide it to people. When it comes to any service, and a fortiori to highly skilled services like medical care, there is actual labor involved as well as many materials. Medical care can't be free both because all the products used in it, from sterile gloves to expensive equipment, don't make themselves, don't mine the raw materials for themselves out of the earth, and don't deliver themselves to the point of use, and also because the doctors themselves are not slaves. Even if they were slaves, they would have to be fed and housed, and guarded so they wouldn't escape from the slave compound, so the work still wouldn't be free. But they should, of course, not be slaves. They have to charge for their services both to pay their expenses and to support themselves and their families. All of this should be obvious. It shouldn't need to be said.

Ah, but our anti-free-market folks will reply that they needn't charge so much for their services. And the same for all sorts of other things. The greedy CEOs and shareholders of the companies that make and sell bread (or medicines or sterile gloves) shouldn't make so much, and so on and so forth throughout all levels of the economy. And if they made less, then all else would remain equal (right?) and that money could just be redistributed in the form of higher wages for their workers, without any rise in prices, because the company would make less in profits. Right? Someone who dislikes the free market can always find someone who, in his opinion, is making too much money and ought to make less. In fact, lots of someones. Therefore, on his view, there is nothing in principle wrong with forcing all those people to make less, if only we could find a way to enforce such virtuous economic behavior. On this view, profit is a kind of pointless epiphenomenon of an economic system. People can always do without it, and if CEOs, doctors, and everyone else won't voluntarily pare themselves back to the point of doing their work for something close to subsistence level, they might as well be forced to do so, or at least to come closer to that "ideal."

The problem with this view is that, to the extent that it is acted upon, it creates economic stagnation, shortages, and loss of jobs, and everyone is worse off. If a potential entrepreneur knows that he can't make a decent profit by starting a company, he won't start a company. If doctors are paid less and less, there is less and less reason for them to go through the long, grueling, and debt-encumbered training required to become a doctor, to work the long hours and put up with the stress of being a doctor, and to subject themselves to the constant possibility of malpractice suits. So we have a doctor shortage. Companies go out of business or are absorbed by other companies that don't need to employ as many workers. Productivity and effort are not rewarded, so the motivation for them wanes. As more and more people lose their jobs, more and more people come to be supported by the government, which is getting less and less tax revenue while paying out more and more in entitlements. The government thus operates more and more on the fiscal equivalent of gas fumes--deficit spending. The whole system creaks on until it is no longer sustainable, and then we have...a problem.

Now, really, that's the end of the story. There isn't really any "on the other hand." But I'll just point this out: How are we supposed to stop people from saying, "The heck with it" and ceasing to produce goods and services, once we have taken that evil profit motive off the table? Isn't, ultimately, the only fallback (and it isn't much of a fallback) to make them keep going? Which takes us right back to enslavement.

Now, that isn't going to happen directly. Nobody is actually going to go to a CEO and say, "You will work for less or we will throw you in prison." But our government is pretty clever at harassing the goose that laid the golden egg. We enact punitive measures via labor law to force companies to pay their workers more, for example. The anti-free-trade folks would like to punish them for outsourcing. The idea is to find that perfect balance where they'll keep on operating, keep on putting out the effort, keep on supplying the jobs, on the terms that are dictated to them. But the very phenomenon of outsourcing shows that eventually, they get tired of hanging around and being dictated to to that extent, so they go elsewhere. We have no record of the number of people who have had an idea or thought of starting a company and said "the heck with it" when brought face-to-face with the regulations and taxation that would be involved in actually starting or running a business. The anti-free-market folks really have no answer to this, but their minds always run in punitive directions. How can we punish "excessive" profits? How can we punish "union busting"? How can we punish outsourcing? How can we punish those who don't pay their employees enough? How can we forcibly cap medical payments? What all of this is essentially saying is, "How far can we go towards making productive members of society slaves without doing so outright? How far can we force them to carry out their productive activities on unprofitable or notably less profitable terms while not immediately causing our economy to collapse?"

Those who pontificate to the effect that "morals should be part of economics" and mean by that not merely that bad products (such as pornography) should not be sold and not merely that fraudulent practices should be punished but something more like, "There is a moral amount that you should make for your goods and services and a moral amount that you are in duty bound to pay your laborers, and it is just to stop you from making more than you should or paying less than you should" simply never confront the cold, hard facts about shortages and economic stagnation. Nor do they confront the tendency towards the enslavement of the productive inherent in their views. They don't confront all of that because it is in conflict with their intuition (or perhaps with their understanding of some religious teaching) that really it should be possible and is right to force people not to pay "too little" and not to make "too much." And that we know what "too little" and "too much" are and can create a healthy economy that promotes human flourishing on that basis. They're so sure that this is possible that you cannot argue them out of it.

And that's a shame. Because you can't make something from nothing, and enslaving people is wrong.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Suicide: "You've got to go back"

God has laid it on my heart today to blog a story that I believed I had blogged years ago. After a long time searching the Internet, this site, and W4 and not finding the story, I searched my computer, found the links in a document, and used the Wayback Machine (hurray for the Wayback Machine) to find the story.

Via the WM, here is the story from 2005. David Preuitt, a former lumberjack in Oregon, tried to commit suicide using prescribed drugs. He slept for several days,  woke up, and told the people around him that while he was out of it he heard a voice saying, "David, I don't want you to do it this way. You've got to go back." Information in this story (also via the WBM) indicates that David Preuitt was not a particularly good candidate for religious suggestions. He was a hard-living logger with a rape conviction and prison term behind him.

After he came back, David insisted to his wife Lynda that she needed to be a voice and to get out the message to other people not to commit suicide, that suicide was not the way to heaven. She attempted to do so, but unfortunately, the story seems to have dropped off the current links on the Internet. Most current stories about David Preuitt just talk about the scandal of David's not having died--the drugs were not effective in the way that they were supposed to have been. The possibility that God really did, you know, send a message back with David against suicide doesn't get much press.

Readers know that I'm more the rationalist type, but evidence is evidence, and this story needs to be heard. The fact that Dave Preuitt's story accords with Christian tradition as well as with the biblical teaching against murder (in this case, the killing of oneself) is confirmatory. The Apostle John said to test the spirits, and in this case there is no biblical reason to believe that David Preuitt's message is not veridical. I preserve the story and the links through the WBM here in case anyone should be looking for them later. Hopefully they will find them this way.