Dec 20

As I’ve been on somewhat of a writing hiatus while building my new financial modeling software company, ClearFactr, I recently came across this CNBC video featuring Cypress Semiconductor’s CEO, T.J. Rodgers.

It really doesn’t get any better than this, so, yeah… what he said.

Happy Holidays to all!

Aug 04

It’s interesting to watch what happens when a person is presented with a free-market solution to what has come to be seen as a problem for government to solve.  The problem might be health insurance, retirement planning, labor agreements, or nearly anything that people decide “they should do something about”, with the “they” being the government.   A lot of feedback I’ve received on my last several columns has a common theme: that the free-market sounds great in theory, but it doesn’t produce equal outcomes, and because of man’s moral imperfections, it’s idealistic to rely on the free-market to promote those outcomes.

I stand accused of being an an Idealistic Capitalist, to which I plead guilty.

Continue reading at Forbes Opinions…


Jan 26

In 1987, Thomas Sowell produced his classic book “A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles.”   Describing the dichotomy of the “constrained” and the “unconstrained” worldviews, Sowell’s sweeping insight explains how two broad camps in the electorate come about, with correspondingly different views of the role of government.

This conflict was laid bare for all to see in last night’s State of The Union address from President Barack Obama, and the GOP Response delivered by Obama’s ideological archnemesis, Congressman Paul Ryan.

Continue reading at Forbes Opinions…

Oct 23

I am pleased to announce that I will be writing a column every other week at Forbes online called “On Civil Society”.

The first article is out there already, discussing the thought-provoking subject of “social business” as a possible alternative to “capitalism” in helping the world’s chronically poor.      Why the quotes around “capitalism”?  You’ll have to read the article…

Check out “How the Free Market Tames Greedy Investors” at Forbes online.

Sep 17

The Lord said to Joshua, ‘See, I have handed Jericho over to you, along with its king and soldiers. 3You shall march around the city, all the warriors circling the city once. Thus you shall do for six days, 4with seven priests bearing seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, the priests blowing the trumpets. 5When they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, as soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and all the people shall charge straight ahead.’

Joshua 6:2-5, NRSV

Here’s a story that simply needs to be retold, a modern day story of Jericho, and I believe a foreshadowing of this coming November 2nd.

As a subscriber to the Cato Institute’s monthly “Cato Audio” program, I recently listened to David Boaz, Cato’s Executive Vice President, recount a gripping sequence of events that ultimately led to the collapse of the Berlin Wall.  When an entire generation of younger voters, including perhaps many who enthusiastically supported the election of Barack Obama, has little or no recollection of the Soviet Union and its attending Communism, it is a story worth knowing, and spreading. Continue reading »

Mar 07

The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial last week by Bret Stephens describing the human cost of policies that produce and maintain poverty, as opposed to those that promote wealth creation. It describes the two recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile and notes that Chile’s earthquake was physically much stronger than Haiti’s and yet the human and physical damage was dramatically lower.   Capitalism, introduced to Chile by Milton Friedman and the University of Chicago’s economics department, wound up turning the economic fortunes of the country around in less than a generation and can plausibly be held responsible for saving countless thousands of lives in their recent earthquake.

Last week I also finished reading a remarkable new book by Jay Richards entitled “Money, Greed and God”, which I discovered via the Cato Institute’s  “Cato Audio” series.  As we continue to debate the causes of the recent financial crisis and what to do about it, Richards’ book arrives on the scene just in time.  Suffice it to say, Richards thoroughly substantiates the message of his subtitle “Why Capitalism Is The Solution And Not The Problem.”   But the applicability of “Money, Greed and God” goes far behind the recent events of the financial crisis.   What makes it stand out is that Richards addresses many of today’s hottest public policy issues from a theological perspective, skillfully navigating the terrain where few dare to tread, that is, mixing politics with religion.  Why is this so important?  I can offer my views as a Christian, although I believe they apply fairly universally to the major religions of the world.

The Bible offers no explicit blueprint for how to set up a government.  Indeed, governments are entirely man-made creations.  Yet there are at least two other areas that Bible talks a lot about: love and sin.  We are charged to do well by our fellow man, to care, to love.  Yet at the same time, we are sinners, so we are bound to make mistakes even as we try to care and to love.   It would follow, therefore, that our man-made institutions are bound to make mistakes.    If we truly care about helping our fellow man, to the extent that we attempt to implement more and more of our “care giving” and compassion through our government, do we have the responsibility as followers of God to monitor the progress?  Do we also have the responsibility to change course if our original goals are not being met?

We can read in Genesis that man was created by God, in His own image.  Richards expands on that in a way that struck me as particularly novel.  If God is the Creator with a capital ‘C’, then being created in His image, mankind has been endowed with the ability to create as well — we are creators with a little ‘c’.   And mankind’s progress through history, with all of our worldly creations, should demonstrate that.     But what have we “created” via our government, in the name of compassion?   Is it working?

At the end of the day, most of the programs and policies of government initiated in the name of helping people amount to rounding up resources from the private sector and redistributing them to others.   And there are plenty of people who argue we need to do more of that.  But if these programs and policies are in fact not working, or perhaps even making things worse, and yet we continue to do them, I would suggest that we are ignoring the original goal of helping others and instead focusing on how these programs make us feel instead.

My guess is that it is a very rare sermon that gets into these areas.   That is a shame, because it flies in the face of what believers in God are taught.   As Saint James wrote (James 2:14-26 NRSV), “faith without works is dead.”  But is faith though repeatedly failing works alive?

In a truly Faustian bargain, churches retain their tax-free status by staying out of politics.   What has the cost of that been?   Consider the fact that over 40% of the population does not pay income tax, and thus has no incentive to monitor the cost of government.  Would it be so bad some of these people were exposed to the cost of government via the Sunday collection plate?   Or to hear evidence of how some particular law is thwarting social justice?  I’m not sure one has to follow this all the way through to particular churches endorsing particular candidates.   But with liberty’s proven track record of helping the human condition, I would think that the Church would want to be its most visibly vocal proponent, and clearly it is not.   As Frederic Bastiat so eloquently wrote in The Law, “liberty is an acknowledgment of faith in God and His works.”

Many people say that discussions of government, politics and economics have no place in and amongst religion.  But consider this:   It is within the collective of man-made public policy that people of faith must attempt to implement their ideas and beliefs. Some systems provide more fertile ground for implementation than others.   And in fact, the policies and programs of government might very well be working at cross-purposes to the social goals frequently promoted by various churches and religions.   In short, people of faith have every reason in the world to be concerned and involved with the workings of government.

To whatever extent we ignore the efficacy of the government-led “solutions” to our society’s ills, all done with the best intentions in the name of compassion, I would suggest that we are engaging in a false compassion.   Getting back to Haiti and Chile, it is very clear what economic framework saved lives, and what framework did not.   I wouldn’t dare suggest that traditional missionary work is not vitally important.  But when the earthquake struck, Haiti suffered as much from a lack of better construction materials and techniques, that is, better capital, as they did from the lack any particular religious teaching.   As Christians and other people of faith seek Truth with a capital ‘T’, so we should seek truth with a lowercase ‘t’ when implementing our “solutions”.

Examples of “false compassion” are legion and some obvious ones will make the point:   Where is the compassion in minimum wage laws that produce outrageous teenage unemployment? Where is the compassion in high tax rates that are a proven disincentive to job creation?   Where is the compassion in government run health care that is bankrupting our country?   It is high time that our religious leaders take a hard look at the man-made systems through which they are attempting to spread and implement God’s word.  We can not change God’s plans for our world, but we can organize our societies in ways that give His instructions the best chance of success.

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Jan 24

On August 30, 2005, the world lost a great mind, that of Jude Wanniski.

Jude Wanniski

As one of the earliest and most passionate promoters of what would be called “supply-side economics”, Jude would speak to anyone who would listen.  Indeed, in the lead up to the Iraq war, where he was beating the drums about former weapons inspector Scott Ritter’s reports that we would not find any weapons of mass destruction, his unorthodox views cost him friendships.    Jude was ignored, and the Bush presidency became tarred with the events of the Iraq War.  This  served to greatly knock Bush’s focus off of what should have been the nail in the coffin for big government.   It set the stage for a wordsmith like Obama to sweep into power, promising utopia on earth, created by government.   It seemed like the limited-government movement would be back by a generation or more.   Or so we thought…

The first chapter of Wanniski’s 1978 masterwork, “The Way The World Works”, describes Wanniski’s “Political Model” and opens with this summary:

“The political model holds that the electorate is wiser than any of its component parts.

Civilization progresses in a political dimension through the ability of politicians to read the desires of the electorate.  Neither the press corps nor other “opinion leaders” influence the electorate, except in the sense of broadcasting the political menu.  Their influence instead bears on the politicians, who look to opinion leaders for help in ascertaining the wishes of the electorate.  The decline of a nation state or political unit is a sign of repeated failure of the political class to read the wishes of the electorate.  Emigration is a sure sign of relative political failure.  At the extreme, the electorate resorts to revolution, thereby adjusting the political framework and raising to power a new political class better able to read the desires of the electorate.  Modern nation states have built into their political frameworks various safety values that can bring about urgent corrections in the avoidance of violent revolution or war.”

Barack Obama, as he continues to provoke and escalate what could virtually be called a cold Civil War, ignores Wanniski’s sage observations to his steady demise.  Rather than stepping back and acknowledging that Scott Brown’s recent win in Massachusetts’ special election for the late Ted Kennedy’s senate seat is but the latest attempt of the voters to say “No!” to his overreaching agenda, he instead doubles down and promises an even stronger fight.

When Wanniski talks of emigration, it is easy to think of places like Mexico, from which thousands of citizens try to flee each month.   But it should be just as easy to think of California, or New York, or Michigan, all laboratories of big government and all reaping the failures of the policies they have sown.   To now have the voters of Massachusetts emigrate en masse from their tradition of sending a Democrat to the Senate, a seat held by over fifty years by a Kennedy, is nothing short of cataclysmic from a Democratic pollster’s vantage point.   The volume of this message to Obama should cause more hearing damage than Spinal Tap’s amps cranked up to eleven.

As for Wanniski’s talk of revolution, one only needs to look to the followers of Ron Paul and the morphing of that into the Tea Party movement.   Now referred to as “astro-turf” at the peril of the accuser’s reputation, after shocking swings of the voting pendulum in Virginia, New Jersey, Westchester County New York and now Massachusetts, it should be clear that this is one Party that is going to give a wicked hangover to resolute defenders of Big Government.

Come November, we’ll learn whether or not Congress has swung far enough to override a Presidential veto on a Wanniski-style supply-side tax cut.   Simply allowing the Bush supply-side tax cuts to become permanent, rather than expire at year’s end, would substitute nicely.    In the meantime, Obama would do well to head Wanniski’s even larger message:   that no matter how smart of an administrative team he tries to assemble and maintain, it is no match for the collective wisdom of the electorate.    If he realized the latter, he would drop his populist class-warfare and instead pursue an agenda of individual empowerment, rooted in personal liberty.   Doing so might be his only hope for winning a second term, possibly against Scott Brown.

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