Saturday, October 27, 2012


This 19-year old kid at work loosened up and asked me a great question a couple of days ago.   Because I have misspent thousands of hours of my life obsessing over how to answer such questions, I had a fairly succinct answer for her.

“Why do you say that when the government prints money, it’s a form of theft?  I don’t understand how more money hurts anyone.”  (Yes, she really did use complete sentences, and didn’t sling a single, “like” in either of them.)

I furrowed my brows for a few seconds and looked at her with my best, “I’m thinking about how to best answer your question” look.  “Let’s start with a critical definition.  Wealth is the things we own, and the things we create with our labor.  It’s easy to see what a factory worker creates, but the service you provide is just as much a part of wealth.  Your clothes, car, house, cat, lunchbox, makeup, theater tickets…  all of that is your wealth.  Each of those things is also the creation of the labor of someone else.  It’s a cycle, like an ecosystem, where everything is linked to both upstream and downstream events.”

She furrowed her brows for a second and nodded with her best, “Oh, my God, why did I ask this old codger a question like that?” look.

“Okay.  It’d be pretty tough to carry all of your wealth around with you, right?  And some of it, like the service you provide here, can’t be carried, anyway, right?  So we use money to symbolize our wealth. When you spend 8 hours of your life here, the company says, “We can’t give you the value that you created tonight because it’s an abstraction, and you can’t carry one of those.” So they give you money as a symbol of what that service is worth to them.  You can put that money in your pocket and go to the store, right?   If you need a new coat, you can’t pay for it with the service you provided here, but you can use that money.  So money is sort of like little notes from others that testify to the value of what we have created for them.  Because an economy is an ecosystem, everyone in it is affected in some way from everything that is created, and money makes that possible.  The shopkeeper may not have benefitted directly from the service you created for your customers, but because we use money, she can benefit from it indirectly.

“So money stands for wealth but it isn’t wealth, itself.  All of the wealth in the ecosystem equals all of the money in it.” She nodded, and her eyes weren’t glazed over like I see so often in people of all ages when they accidentally find themselves challenged to think.  Great kid .

“So can you imagine what would happen if anybody who wanted to could print money?  The money your neighbor prints would have no wealth behind it; it would not represent anything but the value of the paper and ink.  They might print a zillion dollars, but it would be like… ummm… a picture of a steak, instead of a real steak.  No substance – empty.

“But because all of the wealth in our ecosystem equals all the dollars in it, and there are more dollars, what happens to the value of each dollar?  Your neighbor didn’t introduce any new wealth to the ecosystem, so all those new dollars have to get their value from the wealth that was already there.  Every dollar in the system is now worth less real wealth.  Let’s say a loaf of bread – which is real wealth - is worth one dollar.  If you double the number of dollars in the system, how much will that bread-wealth cost?  Two dollars!  What happens if you introduce a thousand times as many dollars?  That’s right; the bread-wealth costs a thousand dollars.  There is no more real substance behind your dollars, they’re just puffed up with air, like a balloon.  That’s why it’s called “inflation.”

“As long as everyone’s supply of dollars increases at the same time, there’s no real harm, but that’s never going to happen.  Will the company increase your per hour rate to cover the increase in the dollar supply?  Ha!  You know the answer to that, right?  Yes, sometimes we get what they used to call “cost of living” increases, but that does nothing more than put another pump of air in the system.

“But the government taxes you on a percentage, right?  So when you pay 50 cents of every dollar to various taxes, you lose that much of the value of your labor.  Let’s say that in the beginning, you got paid 100 bucks because that’s what your labor was worth.  Then the government quadruples the supply of dollars, and because the amount of wealth hasn’t changed, each of those your dollars is now only worth 25 cents.  Did your paycheck increase?  Nope.  You still get 100 bucks, but your paycheck is now only worth 25 bucks.  Here’s a really fun thing:   you still have to pay 50 percent of your dollars in taxes.  You started out with 100 bucks that represented 100 bucks of wealth, and had 100 bucks of purchasing power.  Now, your 100 bucks only represent 25 bucks, and have 25 bucks of purchasing power, then the government takes 50 of them, leaving you with 50, with the purchasing power of 12 dollars and 50 cents.

“John M. Keynes was an economist (college vocabulary for idiot) who didn’t have a flippin’ clue about the relationship of money to wealth.  Everyone in our government today is a Keynesian, because they were educated by professors who were also economists.  These morons really think that if you print more money, you create real wealth.  To them, your work is of absolutely no value.  To them, you are a little cog that gets money and gives it away again.  They even talk about the velocity of the money as it goes through your hands.

“Now we’ve just covered a lot of ground on a long, complex road, right?  But get this:  the complexity of the whole thing is multiplied by the number of people in the ecosystem, and by how many times money changes hands.  Think about that for a second.  There are so many variables in the equation you might as well say they are infinite, but Keynesians believe they can keep track of all of those, and make sure everyone comes out okay and nobody loses everything they have ever worked for, and they mean to do it not based on the value of the wealth or the labor that creates it, but on the value of the individual, and of course, they are the ones who will decide the value of the individual.  “Economic indicators,” they call ‘em. Imagine standing on the bank of a great river, and poking a stick into the water.  Because you can feel the pressure of the water on the stick, you claim you really understand the river and can control it better than the laws of physics and the rest of nature.

“Can you say, “utterly, completely, absolutely insane?”

She nodded, and the light in her eyes was a joy to behold.  “Yep.”

27 Oct., 2012

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Paul, I love the way you expressed yourself in that long status about “How many people…”  It is obvious that your spirit is both tough as nails and very sensitive to what’s going on in your life.  That can be a tough combination to handle.

Let me ask you this:  When you stand before our Maker at the Last Judgment, and all of your sins and triumphs are laid bare before His Eyes, who, of all the people you will have known during your mortal tour will stand by you?  That’s right.  Not a one of them.  We will all stand alone to answer for our own sins and work out our own salvation.  No one can accept the atonement of Christ for you.  No one can speak for you, or say you were a great guy.

Now think about this:  If you have many friends and companions in mortality, and yet are totally alone as you stand before God on that day, doesn’t it make sense that you ought to live your life according to you own goals and values?  I’m sure you know that charity and service to others is a commandment, and that few virtues are greater, but even so, those you have served and helped will not stand by you; they have their own judgment to deal with.

If you seek validation for your life in the opinions or actions of others, you are going down the wrong road.  You must live for yourself and your own values, because that is the way God made you.  He made Paul Black unique in all of creation because He needed Paul Black to follow His commandments, repent of his own sins, and claim his own part of Christ’s Atonement.  He already has someone to live for Joe Blow, and live by Joe Blow’s standards.  That person is Joe Blow.

Now be careful, here.  This does not mean you should be cruel or uncaring toward others, or refuse them charity if it is in your power to give it.  It means that you need to live for yourself.  Your decisions on charity and service need to be yours, and no one else’s.  You will one day choose an eternal companion, and that choice should be made according to your values, with the counsel of The Holy Ghost.  You will think that woman more precious to you than life, itself, and you will be willing to lay down your life for her.  But that must be YOUR choice!

If you ever get into a firefight, it may be that you will choose to lay down your own life for the safety of your fellow Marines.  To do so is the very highest expression of nobility, but it must be YOUR decision, according to YOUR values!

If you live entirely for others, as your status update kind of suggested you might be doing, you will be disappointed, maybe even betrayed.  This is the answer to all of your questions about how many:   One, and it must be Paul Black.  God gave you everything you need to get through this, because He never gives us a trial without also giving us the means of getting through it.

You know, It’s pretty ironic.  On the night of the 14th of March, 1967, I decided that my life was a burden and I couldn’t bear it.  I slipped into the kitchen, got down my mom’s .38, and went out to the car.  I sat in that car and stared down that gun barrel for three hours, trying to get up the guts to pull the trigger.  I never did.  So I went to bed, and when I woke up on the morning of the 15th, I went downtown and enlisted in the Marines.  I enlisted out of a death wish, because I thought I didn’t have the guts to pull that trigger.  However, I understand now that My Father in Heaven needed me to do some things – to raise some kids, to teach other kids, and maybe, just maybe, to write a note in the dead of night to a young man I've never met who is related to me by … what the hell relation are we, anyway?  Not cousins.  Not….  Oh, yeah.  We’re Marines. 
So there it is, Lad.  Be your own man, and do your best to understand what God wants you to be.  And remember that if you punch your own ticket, you’re gonna screw up His plan for you, and that’s gonna go real hard for you at the final judgment.

Semper Fidels.


It should be no great surprise to anyone that I have been guilty of, at worst, a transgression, and at best, being bloody obnoxious.  Nor should it come as a surprise that the episode has stirred me to write.

A few hours after trying to watch the 2nd debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, I wrote a bit of pretty serious invective, in which I called Obama several names, and accused him of hatred and insanity.  At least two friends have taken me sternly to task for trading in hate instead of brotherly love – in judgment instead of Christian charity.  My friends were exactly right, and I thank them for slapping me up ‘side the head.  They have moved me to put down a less explicit and, hopefully, more accurate explanation of my reaction to the debate.

Those who remember the original will notice that it contained quit a few less words than this version.  That’s because it requires a good bit more verbiage to explain one’s opinion of another than it does to just thumb back the hammer on one’s vocabulary of profanity and squeeze the trigger.  I was lazy the other night, and I apologize, sincerely.

It is my belief that we will all be judged by our maker.  A full pardon has been offered to us if we will but pick it up and meet its very simple conditions, but that is up to us.  Indeed, that faculty of choice is at the heart of why we are here.  It is the greatest and most dangerous gift Our Creator has bestowed upon us in mortality.  Without that gift of agency, or free will, there could be no moral questions asked of us.  One might say, “Good dog,” or, “Bad dog,” but one would not say, “Bad moral choice, Dog.”  That’s because only Mankind, of all earthly species, has that gift.  It is what makes us fully human.  (And no, I’m not for an instant saying that they are less than Human, who, through injury or congenital defect, are incapable of exercising agency.  The use of terms such as, “handicapped,” “impaired,” or even, “special,” explicitly define them as not typical of the species.  Being atypical does not in any way define them as less than Human.)

To ask a fish to live out of water would be absurd; fish don’t live out of water.  To ask an eagle to live in a burrow and never come out would absurd; eagles don’t live in burrows.  To force a creature to live in a way other than that which is natural will kill it.  Oh, you might, by force of technology, keep an eagle alive in a burrow, but it wouldn’t be an eagle; it would be some wretched thing with feathers – an abomination.  All of this seems painfully obvious, and yet a great many of our fellow Humans are eager to inflict this horrid condition upon themselves  - to deny the central tenet of Mankind’s mortal adventure.  If they wished it only for themselves, it would be tragic, but they wish it for all of us, and that makes it, by my reckoning, evil.

To deny the value or virtue of Human life is to deny the value or virtue of God’s creation, and that, I believe, is evil.  Not different.  Not unpleasant.  Not bad.  Not Democrat.  Not Republican.   Evil.  It is also, sadly, very much Human nature. 

We all have in us that spark of Lucifer’s instinctive solution to bringing us all back to Heavenly Father at the end of our mortality.  It may be expressed as bullying others, as coercing our spouses or children, or even criminal assault such as rape or robbery.  It might seem instinctive but for the fact that we can be aware of it, judge it, and abandon it.  The heartbreaking incidence of crimes against the agency of others indicates that not all of us are willing or able to abandon it.  A person may be wonderful in all other ways, but still fall into the trap of violating the agency of others.  However, the effects of such violation are so powerful and traumatic that it is equally natural to condemn the person as equivalent to the violation.   It is perfectly legitimate to do so, but only in a very specific sense.  We may judge the person guilty of a crime and levy punishment, but we may not judge the worth of the person’s soul.  That judgment is reserved to God, and He has warned us against trespassing on it.

I do not mean to judge or condemn those who cross over the line when they have been wantonly assaulted or a loved one hurt.  For myself, to hurt one of my children would be a great way to get a free express ticket across the river.  The role of law and government in such situations is another topic, altogether, but for me to punch someone’s ticket, no matter the cause, would be wrong;  it trespasses on that judgment that God has reserved to Himself.  But, Oh!  How impossible it would be to control that impulse to destroy one who hurt my child!  I do not for a second claim as certain that I would control myself!

The proper course would be to judge the morality of the action, then judge the person’s culpability in it, but we should not, at any time, judge the worth of that person’s soul.

So it is in politics, too.  One of the dominant ideas of the role of government flies squarely in the face of my own beliefs.  The results of this idea can be directly observed in history if one has the patience to look and the openness to understand – but it takes a strong stomach, because there is much blood and horror.  At the heart of this idea is the belief that it is right for the government to deny the people free exercise of their agency.  Right up against that is the belief that people in the government have sufficient wisdom and moral character to determine whose agency to deny in what ways, and on what days.  Since some people will resist the constraint of their freedom, it has always been the resort of all governments based on these beliefs to use force, even the shedding of blood, to gain compliance.  Barack Obama and his administration are very clearly, unequivocally proponents of these ideas, but they are by no means the first or the only!  They are, however, the ones we have to deal with today.

This is not opinion, or brainwashing, or talk radio.  This is historical fact, and, in my opinion, such practices are evil and those who pursue them are… guilty of doing evil, but the judgment of their souls I must leave to God.  Men have sufficient wisdom to judge the morality and legality of actions – well, the good ones do, anyway – but lack the omniscience necessary to make those judgments of eternal and celestial consequence.

After watching a few minutes of the debate, I made several intemperate remarks about Barack Obama.  They were purely my opinion, and were based on an overwhelming emotional response to what I believed his attitude to be.  I’m not convinced I was wrong in my assessment, but sharing it the way I did was inappropriate and gratuitously brutal to anyone whose opinion is less extreme than mine.

Mitt Romney’s statement about Barack Obama at the Al Smith dinner made this very point so gently and kindly that, when I compared it to my words, it filled me with shame.  He said, "Our 44th president has many gifts and a beautiful family that would make any man proud. In our country, you can oppose someone in politics and make a confident case against their policies without any ill will and that's how it is for me. There's more to life than politics."

Evil exists in this world, and there are people who love it and practice it.  The rest of us are either the victims or conquerors of evil, but we must always be its enemy.  If unchecked, evil will destroy everything we all hold dear.  But of all it destroys, evil’s greatest triumph, perhaps, is when it turns a good person toward its own, insidious ways that seem, at the time, perfectly reasonable.  Thomas Jefferson pledged undying hostility to all forms of tyranny over the human mind, and I think his phrasing was trenchant.  He pledged hostility to tyranny, not to deluded men and women who love it.

So here is the refinement of what I said about Obama after the debate.  I was terribly upset at Obama’s expressions of approval for ideas that I hold morally wrong.  To see those ideas put forward with a smirk was more than I could take at the time.  The ideas of which I speak have many very powerful proponents, and are deeply embedded in our population, in general.  Those ideas, if not stopped by the ballot box, will inescapably lead to bloodshed, and I fear there may be no way around it.  However, we are not absolved of our duty to seek a peaceful path forward.  We will be held responsible for what we attempt – whether good or bad - as much as for what we do.

I will fight against the ideas expressed by Barack Obama and those who agree with him.  Whether he or his followers are good people or bad is not for me to say, but his ideas are bad, and to stop them I will spend my time, energy, money, and, if no other way is available, my life’s blood.  There are worse things than war; slavery and serfdom are but two.  I cannot pretend otherwise, no matter how many friendships it may cost.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


My ex-wife was a professional dinner waitress at some of the highest-priced places in Albuquerque and Colorado Springs.  When I say, “professional,” I mean that she’d been doing it for 40 years because she loved the work and made darned good money, albeit through tips, rather than wages.  I was shocked when she described to me that employers could essentially deduct declared tips from the minimum wage.  In NM, the law was amended to allow owners to estimate the tips, and deduct that amount!  Talk about setting the fox to guard the henhouse!  That same law made it a felony for people to not declare all of their tips, which, of course, instantly made felons of about 99% of all waitresses.  My wife’s take-home almost immediately dropped by a third.  These places were NOT small businesses:  Mariott, Skychefs (part of American Airlines), Hilton, Four Seasons, etc.. 

Then they started tip-sharing, which not only cut more deeply into her take-home, but also introduced a distressing level of intrigue, brown-nosing, and backstabbing into the workplaces.   That’s why I always tip in cash.  That way, if the server wants to slide a little off the top and keep it, “just between us,” he or she can.

The vast majority of people in food service work part time, mostly because most of the trade comes during traditional meal times.  I can’t see that changing.  Part time employees have always been exempted from most benefits, though Mariott and Skychefs did provide a modest health care plan, paid vacation, and a few other things.  (The vacations were paid at the rate shown on the last paycheck before the vacation, so we’re not talking a heck of a lot of money for the employees, although it came to hundreds of thousands for the corporations.)

I think all of us are on the same page regarding the the industry, as a whole.  How-ever, the point I got out of the article was that Obamacare will be unsustainable for many businesses.  Corporate profits – that’s NET, not GROSS, of course – are generally under a nickel per dollar.  In retail, it’s generally under .03 cents, and I’d be amazed if it’s any more than that in food service.  Obamacare will take fully half of that profit, leaving the owners, themselves, to work for about minimum wage, but without tips.  In the case of the big outfits, like Darden, this will eviscerate the stockholders.  The stockholders are not savage Simon Legrees; they are people who are trying to make a buck on investments so they can retire, or at least have a few bucks put back for their own old-age health issues. In fact, a lot of shareholders are the same servers and kitchen staff who will supposedly benefit from Obamacare.  These people will ultimately suffer more than the owners, who will always take theirs off the top – as it should be.

The whole thing is an insane, self-defeating mess, like Heinlein’s golem, Igli, eating himself.  The pattern, as I see it, is that the government identifies who has the money, then takes the money from them.  This leaves the former money-holders unable to pay their employees, so the government steps in and gives some of the money to the people who would have originally received it had the process been allowed to run it natural course.  Of course, the government employees who administer the redistribution scam must be paid, and their bosses, and their bosses, and various campaign funds get their skim, and most ironically, some of it goes to pay unemployment to the bankrupt former owners. So the end result is that the employees are no better off than they were before. The employers are out of business, every business with which they did business – suppliers, etc. – is less profitable, and the government, which invented the insanity, are the only ones who are actually doing well.  Except, of course, the choice of restaurants is a lot slimmer.

The left has always been more concerned with what is done with money than with how it is made.  That’s because they are Keynesians, or some variation thereof, and think money just happens, or is grown, or printed, or pulled out a magic mason jar.  Many capitalists and individualists think liberals are against wealth, but in point of fact, they are not.  They are only against wealth they do not control.  They will forgive any criminal behavior by the person who amasses wealth as long as that person allows them to control it.  Capitalists and individualists (whom I will call, “conserv-atives” for convenience’ sake, but with great trepidation due to the jaw-dropping ignorance about what the term may imply)  are more concerned with how the money is made than with how it is spent.  If you earn it legally and morally, you are welcome to do with it as you please.  Liberals say, “There is no wrong done as long as your actions were to benefit others – and we are the others.”  Conservatives say, “Your money is your money.  Just make sure you don’t break the law in earning it”  (Opposition to parts liberalism does not make one a conservative.  Gaining wealth by forcibly abusing others is antithetical to the definition of capitalism or individualism, and anyone who does so and calls himself a conservative is a damned liar.)

There is great injustice in the food service industry, especially at the bottom of the food chain, if you’ll pardon the pun.  On that we all agree.  Our nation’s health care industry is in dire need of reform, and I think we all agree on that, too.  Obamacare addresses neither problem.  It creates new problems that, because they are lodged deep within the body of the law, will be vastly more difficult to fix.

I believe the ultimate solution to the matter of low wages and lack of benefits in any industry is to free the market to create new businesses and even entire industries, so there will be more opportunity in breadth as well as in depth.  If an aspiring restaurant owner wants to hire an outstanding server away from his competition, he can offer a higher wage with some assurance that his profits won’t be seized.  If a company, such as Darden, wishes to pay sweatshop wages, they are free to do so, but they are not free to escape the fact that nobody will work for them.  In the interest of keeping it real, I can’t imagine anyone with a shred of sanity wanting to own or manage a restaurant, in the first place, and sure as hell not on the pittance that will be left after the Obamants have eaten all the sugar in the kitchen!

10 Oct., 2012