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Columnist Charley Reese Asks, "Is Economics All There Is?"
King Features Syndicate ^ | 07-18-03 | Reese, Charley

Posted on 07/18/2003 4:22:53 AM PDT by Theodore R.

Is Economics All There Is?

Let me invite you to join a crusade to change the culture and stop the present trend of treating us, our country, the world, everything and everybody in it as mere economic units.

I was reminded of the necessity of this when reading a news story in a local paper about the Fourth of July. It was, in fact, just about how businesses catering to visitors fared during the holiday weekend. They did well, but is that what the Fourth of July has become: just another business opportunity? Is it a "good" Fourth if the merchants make money and a "bad" Fourth if they don't make as much as they did last year? What does making money have to do with the Fourth of July anyway?

The answer is nothing. The Fourth of July is our celebration of political independence. It is about freedom, not money. It is about our country, not our economy. The fact that economic activity is necessary to sustain our flesh-and-blood bodies does not mean that economics is the be-all and end-all of our existence. We are human beings and citizens, not consumers. Our lives are much more than what we eat or wear or drive, just as our country is far more than its gross domestic product.

Think for a moment about the mentality that says the way to describe the Fourth is to talk to the merchants about how much business they did. You see the same mentality everywhere and year-round. Christmas stories are done the same way: Are sales up or down? Globalization — which means the takeover of the world's resources and labor by multinational corporations — is presented as a nondebatable fact.

If you protest a corporation closing its American plant and relocating to a cheap-labor country, the corporation acts as if that is inevitable and dictated by economic necessity. It is not. It is, in fact, immoral and socially detrimental. Corporate types who make those decisions should be shunned by their fellow citizens. It is far more important for Americans to have decent-paying jobs than it is for any corporation to make excessive profits.

We have to stop allowing economics to be used as a trump card. Capitalism is like math. It is amoral. It is good at producing wealth; it's bad at distributing wealth. Unless it operates within a moral framework it will produce an unjust society. The answer to every question is not "It's profitable" or "It's unprofitable." There are social and political values that have to be taken into account.

It's unfortunate that many politicians today see the role of government as assisting corporations to make profits. That's not the legitimate role of government at all. That is a corruption of government, and today it is so rampant that politicians don't even think twice about sounding as if they were representing the chamber of commerce instead of the people.

We should seek to separate government and business for the same reason we separate government and religion. Instead of negotiating more managed trade agreements to facilitate the loss of even more American jobs, Congress should be figuring out ways to punish the practice of offshoring with punitive taxes and tariffs.

America as a nation was poor a lot longer than it's been rich. It wasn't money that created this country and made it great, but there has always been a conflict between those whose god is money and those who have different values, whether they be a just society, political liberty, religious freedom or good stewardship of the land. In the later half of the 19th century the money worshippers raped the land, exploited the American people and created slums and hellish working conditions.

Today's robber barons will re-create those 19th-century conditions if we continue to let them dominate the government and our very thoughts. Remember, we are human beings with souls, not cogs in some economic machine.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- © 2003 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Government
KEYWORDS: businesses; capitalism; christmas; corporations; economics; jobs; july4; multinational; poverty; profits; robberbarons; us; wages; wealth

1 posted on 07/18/2003 4:22:54 AM PDT by Theodore R.
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To: Theodore R.
"Corporate types who make those decisions should be shunned by their fellow citizens. "

They should be forced to stay here and do what we tell them to instead of what will be best for themselves. Don't they ever think of the people?!! No not them. They only think of themselves and their evil shareholders. Wicked greedy capitalists!!!

2 posted on 07/18/2003 4:50:23 AM PDT by tcostell (If only we could have a law banning profits......)
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3 posted on 07/18/2003 4:52:02 AM PDT by Support Free Republic (Your support keeps Free Republic going strong!)
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To: tcostell
Your knee jerk missed the point. The point is:

We have to stop allowing economics to be used as a trump card. Capitalism is like math. It is amoral. It is good at producing wealth; it's bad at distributing wealth. Unless it operates within a moral framework it will produce an unjust society.

Regards

J.R.

4 posted on 07/18/2003 4:58:19 AM PDT by NMC EXP (Choose one: [a] party [b] principle.)
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To: Theodore R.
Capitalism is like math. It is amoral. It is good at producing wealth; it's bad at distributing wealth

What a moron!

5 posted on 07/18/2003 5:00:01 AM PDT by PGalt (Craven could move out of the fiction genre and still have a hit)
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To: PGalt
What a moron!

Wow

What a compelling argument. You really destroyed Reese's premise.

Regards

J.R.

6 posted on 07/18/2003 5:07:29 AM PDT by NMC EXP (Choose one: [a] party [b] principle.)
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To: Theodore R.
I'm always suspicious of people who make several highly debatable statements that "we all know are true."

Was the late 19th Century a period when robber barons "raped the land, exploited the American people and created hellish slums?" Why then did millions uproot themselves from their homelands to come to such a disaster?

Was America "a nation that was poor a lot longer than it's been rich?" European visitors were making the comment as early as colonial times that the American yeoman farmer was much better off than his equivalent, the European peasant. Relative prosperity from the outset was the fundamental reason Americans saw themselves as independent beings not to be trifled with.

How do you argue with someone who says that we shouldn't be treated "as economic cogs?" But when that is followed up by statements that capitalism isn't good at redistributing wealth, that corporate profits are "excessive," that globalization boils down to "the takeover of the world's resources by multinational corporations," what is the implied solution? Fascism? Corporations in private hands in name only but actually under governmental control? It seems to me that that's where Reese's argument leads.
7 posted on 07/18/2003 5:07:34 AM PDT by ricpic
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To: NMC EXP
Individuals are immoral. Identify the immoral individuals. Capitalism is the ONLY economic system compatible with...FREEDOM...INDIVIDUALS...LIFE. Immoral individuals (ie criminals) are anti-freedom, anti-life.
8 posted on 07/18/2003 5:13:05 AM PDT by PGalt
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To: NMC EXP
"It is good at producing wealth; it's bad at distributing wealth"

Since when is the distribution of wealth important? Did monarchies evenly distribute wealth? Did communism evenly distribute wealth? Have dictators ensured the even distribution of wealth?

Stealing from the pockets of the productive to pay for the needs of the unproductive is pure solicialistic BS. Profit based decision making may be imperfect in a socialist based world view, but it sure supplies all of us with jobs. It also provides opportunities to those who are willing to invest, work hard, and take risks.

Who defines the moral framework referred to? Liberals? Anarchists? How about leaving the definition of the moral framework to those who earned the profit. The fabric of American history is replete with rich philanthropists, religion based charities, and neighbors helping neighbors. Evil capitalists are the poor man's best friend. The turnover in the lowest paid quartile is huge. Those that are poor and don't want to be poor are constantly moving up. Those that are poor and don't care are the minority.

9 posted on 07/18/2003 5:23:59 AM PDT by Movemout
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To: NMC EXP
...and also ANTI-CAPITALISM.
10 posted on 07/18/2003 5:27:25 AM PDT by PGalt
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To: PGalt
Redistribution of wealth is not the function of government. Neither is the function of government to advance corporate interests. These are the symptoms of fascism and are not capitalistic.
11 posted on 07/18/2003 5:49:21 AM PDT by meenie
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To: Theodore R.
It is far more important for Americans to have decent-paying jobs than it is for any corporation to make excessive profits.

What a false dilemma. I work for a company that's bleeding money as fast as they can raise it. They're trying to move manufacturing to the far east to merely break even, not make "excessive profit." If that doesn't work then we all lose paychecks here in the states, period, not "profit." It's not about outsourcing low dollar manufacturing to save my white coller design job, it's about mere survival against everyone else.

12 posted on 07/18/2003 5:50:58 AM PDT by sam_paine
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To: meenie
I am in complete agreement.
13 posted on 07/18/2003 6:08:38 AM PDT by PGalt
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To: NMC EXP
I didn't miss the point, I disagree with the point. It's (economics is) not bad at distributing wealth, it's bad at distributing wealth in a way that seems fair to those who don't end up with any.

My issue is with the idea that it is fair for someone who does less than me (as determined by the consensus estimate of our contribution), to get more than me. this is just a feeble attempt at making people feel guilty about making decisions about benefitting themselves when the result manifests change for others. It's a socialist's argument about the definition of morality.

And by the way, ask any socialist what constitutes an "unjust society" and you should get a better idea of what a slippery slope you're on when you take merit out of the compensation equation. Of those high paid laborers who lose their jobs, the best will get better jobs, and be much better off because they'll also get the benefit of lower prices. The worst of them will go on to complain about the immoral fat cats, and live off public assistance.

14 posted on 07/18/2003 6:13:06 AM PDT by tcostell
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To: NMC EXP
Capitalism is like math. It is amoral. It is good at producing wealth; it's bad at distributing wealth.

What utter crap. The people and companies producing the most profits get the most benefit - that sounds like a damn good distribution system to me.

15 posted on 07/18/2003 7:34:14 AM PDT by balrog666 (Universe inexorably winding down - women and children hardest hit! Film at 11.)
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To: ricpic
Once upon a time I remember reading that the term capitalism was coined by non other than Karl Marx - if that is in not correct than it well should be since it is actually a derisive term. Capitol - meaning money and ism = doctrine or belief system i.e. a world view that revolves around money. This is a very derogatory look at the free market but it is not political advantageous to rail against freedom therefore the communist types focus on the evils of money worshipping and most unfortunately the term has been fully popularized.

Regarding the evils of the 19th century robber barons it should be noted that it was the government that helped them become all they were. Lincoln and the Republican party established corporate welfare as policy i.e. government funds "helping" private businesses for the general public good. Part two of that is that the close relationship of government and these corporations once established bloomed into government favoring special interests over the general welfare. Governors - bought and paid for used the power of the state - police and national guard to come down on the side of large business in labor disputes for example. One further point is that the large influx of immigration floaded the labor pool so business could dictate harsh working terms and low wages to workers - if you don't like it there are plenty of others who need the work. No question that human nature is corrupt but government is not a fair arbitor - it is run by people who like everyone else are corrupt by nature. Government is force and nothing else. That force has been allowed to be harnessed by corporate interests and that is why the founders knew the answer is more freedom and less government in all things. Things are a mess because we discarded the wisdom of the founders.

16 posted on 07/18/2003 7:36:51 AM PDT by u-89
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To: meenie
Neither is the function of government to advance corporate interests.

BTTT. Too many 'free market capitalists' forget this part...

17 posted on 07/18/2003 7:44:49 AM PDT by skeeter (Fac ut vivas)
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To: u-89
No question that human nature is corrupt ....

You make some excellent points but, as is always necessary, you leave out a lot of good points, too. First, in addition to being corrupt human nature is also good. It depends on which nature is nourished throughout life that determines which prevails. The spiritual side, as opposed to the physical side, of human nature is just as natural and more conducive to harmonious interaction when nourished.

Secondly, free enterprise, a.k.a. capitalism, has the unique ability to transform the selfish interests of the individual into a common good for all. The market is self-regulating and the abuses of one side (labor, management, costs, price, etc.) are soon mitigated by fluctuations in supply and demand. When government interferes with this natural market interaction the system breaks down. I am not in favor of unrestricted "Buyer Beware" but as long as government prevents the big 'uns from eating the little 'uns that is about all it can safely do.

When Charlie Reese was with the Orlando Sentinel I enjoyed most of his columns. Since then I find more I disagree with than agree.

18 posted on 07/18/2003 8:34:00 AM PDT by Mind-numbed Robot (Not all things that need to be done need to be done by the government.)
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To: Mind-numbed Robot
>You make some excellent points

Thanks for the compliment. I'm not beyond the sin of pride - it makes me feel good - I like it.

>but, as is always necessary, you leave out a lot of good points, too

always necessary??? Like I have a pattern you've noticed? I do not sinisterly disregard facts for political purposes. Anything left out of my comments are either for the sake of brevity or an honest oversight.

>in addition to being corrupt human nature is also good.

definition of an honest politician: a politician who once bought stays bought.

>as long as government prevents the big 'uns from eating the little 'uns

The problem with our system socialism or fascism (same thing only different - which are we?) is that the wealthy and powerful use government to secure contracts, protection and funding for themselves and to cripple the little guy. How does one get government to fix the problem that it has created itself? How about limiting government and enforcing the principle "all men are treated equally under the law" meaning laws (like once covering taxes, exports, imports, subsides, etc.) apply to everyone period, without exemptions, loopholes.

19 posted on 07/18/2003 9:20:29 AM PDT by u-89
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To: tcostell
I did a poor job of making my point. I am not advocating socialism but I agree with the author that "economics" i.e. the management of the: DJIA, S&P, GDP and the rest of the top level indicators has taken on the aspects of a religion. From this comes Reese's (accurate) statement that capitalism should properly considered amoral It is intrinsically neither good nor evil.

The economy is nothing more than the by product of people going about their lives but it has been elevated to a point where we as individuals are close to becoming nothing more than an economic unit. In "Brave New World" the lower classes were constantly propagandized with the slogan "Work - Earn - Buy".

Recall the few months post 9/11. There was a blitz of government Public Service Announcements and private commercials urging citizens to get out there and spend money.

The message translated to: "Win the war on terror by buying some Chinese consumer goods at Walmart".

Don't know about you, but that bothered me.

Regards

J.R.
20 posted on 07/18/2003 6:37:52 PM PDT by NMC EXP (Choose one: [a] party [b] principle.)
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To: NMC EXP
OK fair enough. I understand your point I think, but I still think the author is wrong. If you read FA Hayek (I'd reccomend "The Road To Serfdom") you realize that Economics is not about Math, it's about freedom.

That people like me spend their professional lives using numbers to describe the state of an economy is really just about trying to quantify risk. But the debate between economic systems is about decision making, and who makes the decisions. If the government puts a law in place which makes it illegal for you to do what you would otherwise do, then they have made a decision for you and enforced that decision with (at least the threat of) force.

Now you have given up your freedom, but your company will stay where it is. Of course, you'll have to charge more now, so you'll lose business, but maybe you can convince the government to put another law in place which takes away the freedom of choice from your customers. This goes on ad infinitum under socialism.

Personally, I think a businessman doing what he must to make his business as profitable as posible is the most moral thing a man can do. I think the immorality of the authors equation is when someone has the nerve to try to convince him that he should give up his freedom of choice for the benefit of others.

All this because the author can't understand the law of comparative advantage.

Actually, I think I have a better book for you to read. Hayek is a classic, but it reads a little slow. Try reading "Knowledge and Decisions" by Thomas Sowell. Personally I think it's the best Economic text I've ever read.

Cheers.

21 posted on 07/18/2003 6:58:41 PM PDT by tcostell
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To: u-89
always necessary??? Like I have a pattern you've noticed? I do not sinisterly disregard facts for political purposes. Anything left out of my comments are either for the sake of brevity or an honest oversight.

Sorry I didn't make myself clearer or perhaps I am sorry that you took in so personally, unnecessarily, whichever applies. I meant that it is always necessary to leave out many aspects of a subject in a format such as this due to time and space constraints, just as you replied. That was a general statement, not one directed to you or concerning your style, etc.

22 posted on 07/24/2003 9:37:18 AM PDT by Mind-numbed Robot (Not all things that need to be done need to be done by the government.)
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To: Mind-numbed Robot
Once on All in the Family the Meathead said something to Archie. After a pause Archie asked "Was that a shot?" Don't worry, I didn't take your comment personally, I was just curious as the remark could be read as you just explained or it could have been a shot. FR is a place where one's statements come under scrutiny, rightly so, no problem. Have had some cheers on my posts but also I've had more than one person disagree with me but some have even call my motives sinister, really. I was just seeking clarification on your meaning - was it innocent or was there something more to it? - I do have some detractors on this site afterall. Thanks for the note.

all the best -

Cheers,

23 posted on 07/24/2003 9:14:58 PM PDT by u-89
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