Mind-benders

There’s plenty of mindless stuff on the web, to be sure, but drop your line in some holes and you’re likely to get a catch you can barely reel in.

I got two of those, Wednesday, one geopolitical, one economic, both challenging the “wisdom” I’ve received.

1

Your mental gymnastics exercise for the day Forget “Imagine there’s no heaven ….” Try “Imagine there’s no nation-state.” It’s not easy, even if you try.

On 17 September 2016, the then presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeted: ‘A nation without borders is not a nation at all. We WILL Make America Safe Again!’ The outcry obscured the fact that Trump was right (in the first half, anyway).

This is the crux of the problem: nation-states rely on control. If they can’t control information, crime, businesses, borders or the money supply, then they will cease to deliver what citizens demand of them.In the end, nation-states are nothing but agreed-upon myths: we give up certain freedoms in order to secure others. But if that transaction no longer works, and we stop agreeing on the myth, it ceases to have power over us.

So what might replace it?

The city-state increasingly looks like the best contender. These are cities with the same independent sovereign authority as nations, places such as Monaco or Singapore.The city-state has recently been feted by Forbes magazine (‘A New Era For The City-State?’ 2010), Quartz (‘Nations Are No Longer Driving Globalisation – Cities Are’, 2013), The Boston Globe (‘The City-State Returns’, 2015) and the Gates Foundation-funded How We Get to Next (‘The Rebirth of the City-State’, 2016).

The trends that are pinching the nation-state are helping the city-state. In a highly connected, quasi-borderless world, cities are centres of commerce, growth, innovation, technology and finance. According to Bruce Katz, Centennial Scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, and co-author (with Jeremy Nowak) of the forthcoming book The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism, the hub-like quality of large cities is especially valuable in the modern economy: ‘Innovation happens because of collaboration, and that needs proximity. You need a dense eco-system, and so hyper-connectivity is reinforcing concentration.’ Cities also have demographic weight on their side: for the first time in history, in 2014 the majority of humans live in cities.

(Jamie Bartlett, Return of the City-State, Aeon)

There are some inherent problems in building city-states, or establishing independent city-states, on land. Take Liberland, for example.

So maybe there are alternatives.

2

One Tim Busch, some kind of Catholicish hotel zillionaire, saith:

What people need to realize is that it is the job that is essential, and the pay secondary. Once people are working, they can acquire additional skills or be promoted from within to earn higher pay. But the minimum wage can eliminate them from having any opportunity to work in the first place.

Distributist Thomas Storck is having none of it:

Wages don’t matter – unless you happen to be a low-wage worker who also needs to live and perhaps wants to live right now, not wait till that great day in the by and by when he will be promoted. In considering Mr. Busch’s rhetoric one is reminded of G. K. Chesterton’s line about “the easy speeches that comfort cruel men.” How convenient for employers to be told that what we used to call sweat-shop wages are really ok, really an act of kindness since everyone can “acquire additional skills or be promoted from within to earn higher pay.”

But there was once another man besides Tim Busch. He was Fr. Heinrich Pesch, S.J., 1854-1926, the greatest Catholic economist of modern times, and a major influence on the papal encyclical Quadragesimo Anno. Fr. Pesch thought about economics from a Catholic standpoint and was not particularly concerned to tickle the ears of the rich. With regard to wages he wrote in vol. 5 of his Lehrbuch der Nationalökonomie:

The employer who, by his own ineptitude, uses labor in such a way that it does not come up to doing what it is capable of doing, would nevertheless be required to pay the kind of wage which labor is intended to provide. However, if labor is utilized properly in accordance with its natural purpose, and the employer pays a wage which does not provide for labor’s livelihood, then he violates commutative justice. Finally, an industry which, even under normal circumstances is not in a position to pay wages corresponding to what wages are supposed to accomplish, is lacking in economic justification. This means that the requisite consumer demand is lacking, and such an industry no longer has a place in the pattern of satisfying normal human wants.

In other words, if the only way Mr. Busch can keep his hotels open is by paying workers such low wages that they cannot support a family, then “requisite consumer demand is lacking, and such an industry no longer has a place in the pattern of satisfying normal human wants.”

Mr. Busch depends on various groups of people to keep his hotels running, on the staff which he employees, on those who supply the hotels with food, linen, etc., who provide electricity, and so on.

Would Mr. Busch object to paying those who provide food or electricity what they need to keep their businesses running and even make a profit? Does Mr. Busch begrudge a fair return on their economic input to anyone other than his own workers? If Mr. Busch told those who supply his hotels with soap or shampoo that he would no longer pay what they charged, but that they should be grateful because they had an opportunity to market their product and make it better known, people would laugh at him. Why are workers different? Why are they alone supposed to make an economic contribution without receiving a fair return?

… If someone revived chattel slavery and boasted that he could undersell his competitors, who would doubt but that his entire enterprise was an economic as well as a moral evil, no matter how cheaply he could produce? The same logic must be applied to any enterprise which cannot afford to pay its workers a just wage.

(Emphasis added)

* * * * *

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

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