Friday, September 06, 2019

Sirach 44

A Roman Catholic Bible has a number of books that Protestant Bibles do not have.  The church calls them deutero-canonical books: ancient books of wisdom that do not have the same authority as the rest of the Bible. The acceptance of some of these books among early Christians was widespread, though not universal. Martin Luther considered these books very good and useful reading; John Calvin considered them as work of Satan.

They are clearly later than the generally accepted books of the Old Testament.  For a start, they have mostly come down to us in Greek, with only fragments extant in Hebrew.  They also recount events much closer to the time of Christ. -- such as the revolt of the Maccabees

For the first thousand years of Christianity, there was no general agreement about what books rightly belonged in the Old Testament.  The various church fathers all had their own lists and some of the deutero-canonical books were normally included -- though not always the same deutero-canonical books.

But when Jews formulated their Masoretic text -- ending in the 10th century -- their selection of books gradually gained authority.  Protestant Bibles are based on it. Since the deutero-canonical books were widely accepted among early Christians, however, they are clearly part of the Christian tradition and deserve respect for that.

I am not well-read in the deutero-canonical books but I rather like chapter 44 of Sirach. Below is an excerpt in a modern translation:

1 Now allow us to praise famous people and our ancestors, generation by generation.

2 The Lord created great glory, his majesty from eternity.

3 They ruled in their kingdoms, and made a name with their power, some giving counsel by their intelligence; some making pronouncements in prophecies;

4 some leading the people by their deliberations, and by their understanding of the people’s learning, giving wise words in their instruction;

5 others devising musical melodies, and composing poems;

6 rich people endowed with strength, living in peace in their dwellings—

7 all of these were honored in their generation, a source of pride in their time.

8 Some of them left behind a name so that their praises might be told.

9 For some there is no memory, and they perished as though they hadn’t existed. These have become as though they hadn’t been born, they and even their children after them.

10 But these were compassionate people whose righteous deeds haven’t been forgotten.

11 This will persist with their children; their descendants will be a good legacy.

12 Their descendants stand by the covenants, and their children also, for their sake.

13 Their descendants will last forever, and their glory will never be erased.

14 Their bodies were buried in peace, but their name lives for generations.

15 The people will tell of their wisdom, and the congregation will proclaim their praise.

It seems to me that this passage constitutes an exact repudiation of Leftism. Leftists want everybody to be equal and loathe success wherever they find it.  Far from praising and remembering great men, they mock them as "dead white males".  Leftists envy great men.  They do not honour them. As Gore Vidal said:  "Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little"

But I agree with Sirach.  We SHOULD remember great men -- because we may be able to learn from them.  They represent excellence and we should aspire to excellence.  So the passage above is an emphatic expression of values that we may never hear so strongly put today but which should be part of a healthy scale of values.  It is wisdom from the Christian tradition.


The trade war may not be worth it for Wall Street, but it is worth it to Americans who have lost their jobs and towns

If you Google Peter Navarro, President Donald Trump’s trade guru (he is actually called “assistant to the president and director of trade and manufacturing policy,”) you might read that he is considered a “heterodox” economist. We suppose this means out of sync with many or most professional and academic economists. They regard “free trade” or unregulated, un-negotiated trade, as an article of faith.

But shouldn’t economists, of all people, be the opposite of doctrinaire? Should economics not be utterly empirical? And shouldn’t the national interest outweigh any abstract doctrine?

As the national media piles on regarding Mr. Trump’s trade policy — protectionist in the words of some pundits and negatively nationalist in the minds of others — Mr. Navarro has become the whipping boy for an approach to trade that we are told is impractical, naive and bound to trigger a recession.

Actually, to assume that any market will entirely regulate itself, righting any and all unfairness or inequality, has long been thought naive by liberal economists and social critics. And the result of most of the “free trade” agreements made in the last 30 years would seem to verify that critique.

In truth, the gradual and structural recession that has plagued the American worker for those same years — known as deindustrialization — is the permanent recession; the recession that keeps on hurting.

Mr. Navarro is portrayed by some of the media as an economic gadfly (read “nut”) when he is actually a Harvard Ph.D. whose views were, for a long time, very much in the mainstream. They may again become the prevailing common sense. That is because they are sensible.

“This country is built on manufacturing,” he has said again and again. “I’m talking about a constant renewal of manufacturing. High-tech manufacturing. And what we’ve seen since 2000, 2001, is we’ve seen the exodus of our factories and jobs.”

This is fact. It is empirical. This nation had some 17 million manufacturing jobs in 2000, considered the (down) turning point, and has a little under 12 million now. We’ve lost 5 million factory jobs in less than 20 years.

At one point — the late 1970s — almost 20 million Americans worked in manufacturing. In 1960, 1 in 4 Americans were factory workers. Today, 1 in 10 are.

Mr. Navarro, a liberal Democrat, makes what used to be a classical liberal Democratic argument about the multiplier effect of manufacturing jobs. “A manufacturing job,” he told NPR a few months ago, “has inherently more power to create wealth.”

“If you have the manufacturing job as the seed corn, then you have jobs in the supply chain. Then towns spring up around that where you have the retail, the lawyers, the accountants, the restaurants, the movie theaters. And what happens is when you lose a factory or a plant in a small- or medium-sized town in the Midwest, it’s like a black hole. And all of that community gets sucked into the black hole and it becomes a community of despair and crime and blight rather than something that’s prosperous.”

This, too, is simply true.

He makes a second classical liberal Democratic argument — that by surrendering in the trade war, the U.S. government transferred wealth overseas and from American workers to foreign companies. If calling that stupid and irresponsible is“protectionist,” so be it. If our government is not here to protect us, what is it here for?

Finally, Mr. Navarro makes the point that deindustrialization is a national security issue. During World War II we vastly outproduced Germany and Japan. This would not be possible today. We could not — we probably would not have the resources or the heart — fight the war today.

To view the industrial base as central to the nation’s defense is not radical or new. It is rational and traditional. In 1952, when faced with a strike by the United Steelworkers, Harry Truman issued an executive order for the secretary of commerce to seize the nation’s steel mills to ensure the continued production of steel. Our industrial base is our security base.

Finally, some 60 years ago, when the writer Michael Harrington’s book “The Other America” (praised by John F. Kennedy) was published, it was considered enlightened, or simply decent, to have concern for the poverty of rural America, though there was no power elite there. Yet when Mr. Navarro and Mr. Trump seek to revive the emptied out heartland, and its silent factories, we are told they are selling empty promises.

Why should this be so? Why shouldn’t America build things again, even if it cannot regain its once overwhelmingly dominant position in manufacturing? Why should it not be considered mainstream to protect the economic future of Americans who are not powerful and progressive to seek to create jobs, real jobs, for Americans who have, for so long, been forsaken?

We are told that fighting the trade war just isn’t worth it. It makes Wall Street nervous. Maybe if your job and town are gone, the fight is worth it.



Nothing Protects Tenants Better than Adding Supply
Many Californians are clamoring for more tenant protection legislation. Lawmakers are currently considering AB1482, which aims to limit rent hikes and unfair evictions. Last year, California tenant advocates failed to pass Proposition 10, which aimed to expand rent-control.

Earlier this month, Alameda landlords Margaret and Spencer Tam made news for attempting to evict 87-year-old Holocaust survivor Musiy Rishin in order to replace him with higher-paying tenants. Then in late August police arrested a Mountain View landlord and her friends after they staged a violent home invasion in order to scare a family out of the home they were renting.

Keeping low-income families in their homes is a worthy goal. Displacement separates families from their jobs and social support systems. It exacerbates poverty and increases homelessness.

More than 16,000 households in San Francisco depend on rent control to stay in their homes. Ending it immediately would consign every low-income family in SF to either homelessness or crushing commutes. But keeping it going traps families in apartments which may or may not suit their current needs and raises rents (by a small amount) on average.

Rent control is a Band-Aid solution to the growing, nationwide problem of rent burden. Incomes among the bottom half of earners haven’t grown since the Great Recession. Rents, meanwhile, are skyrocketing across the US. They’re growing fastest in the cities that are creating the majority of new jobs.

Rents are increasing because high-demand cities aren’t building enough new homes. Rent control attempts to keep long-term residents in their homes, but rent control without new supply creates a huge gap between market rate rents and what low-income families pay.

This disparity pits landlords against rent-control tenants. Unfortunately, when landlords go up against tenants, they nearly always win. For example, landlords are nearly always represented in wrongful eviction cases, whereas tenants can rarely find a lawyer. And where they can’t prevail in court, they can always make life miserable for tenants by cutting off power like the Mountain View landlords. Or failing to maintain the property in the instance of the Ghost Ship fire that killed 36 people in Oakland in 2016. Rent control also tends to benefit older, wealthier tenants who are better able to fight evictions and don’t have to move as often for work or family changes.

Limits on when and why landlords can evict tenants are supposed to protect them from displacement. But until market rates come down, landlords will be strongly incentivized to remove tenants who pay far below-market rates and replace them with market-rate tenants. And they’re likely to often prevail, as the above cases show. Unfortunately, even the strongest tenant protections can’t do the job of a housing market where landlords compete for tenants and not the other way around.

Rent control and tenant protections in San Francisco raise rents less than 10% on average, according to Stanford Researchers. They’re the only thing keeping low-income tenants in their homes in SF. But they alone will not be enough to keep low-income renters safe. The only thing that will work for all families, long-term, is to build more housing.



Unions are the enemies of the people

I didn't have a choice about joining a union when I was hired by CBS and then ABC. They told me that if I wanted to work, I had to pay dues to AFTRA (the American Federation of TV and Radio Artists). "I'm not an 'artist'!" I complained. "I don't want to pay a middleman, and I don't want some actor setting my working conditions."

"Too bad," was the answer. "This is a union shop."

Today, 28 states no longer force workers to join unions. Last year, the Supreme Court declared that unions forcing government workers to pay dues is unconstitutional. After that, hundreds of thousands of workers stopped paying union dues. Good. Unions tend to be enemies of workplace innovation and individual choice.

Also, some of their leaders are thieves. Last week, the FBI raided homes of United Auto Workers leaders. The investigation, begun by the Obama administration, suggests Fiat Chrysler Automobiles paid union leaders millions in bribes to stay "fat, dumb and happy," as prosecutors put it, instead of protecting union members' interests.

Yet, this week, Elizabeth Warren (now the clear Democratic presidential frontrunner), said that "more than ever, America needs a strong labor movement."

This is a popular argument, fueled by the media's bashing of President Donald Trump and anyone else who supports markets. A recent Gallup poll found labor unions now have a 64% favorability rating -- the highest in 16 years.

Warren went on to say that America needs unions because "the playing field today is tilted against working families."

That's utter nonsense. The playing field is better for working families today because the animal spirits of capitalism create more wealth and opportunities in spite of unions.

Of course, unions were once needed. More than 100 years ago, the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company got the National Guard to send men with machine guns into tents occupied by strikers. They killed at least 20 people, including children and wives of miners who were burned alive.

Today, however, violence is more likely to be initiated by unions.

When I worked for ABC, delivery trucks for the New York Daily News were attacked with sticks, stones and fire on the first day of a strike. Some drivers were beaten.

Not satisfied with attacking the company and threatening violence against "scabs" who want to work, union protestors threatened newsstands that continued to sell the Daily News. Protestors seized copies of the paper and set them on fire.

Police did little to quell the violence.

No wonder many companies prefer to work with nonunion labor.

The legally mandated bureaucracy, and all the lawyers surrounding labor disputes, is another infuriating obstacle to anyone who just wants to work out a contract or get a project done.

One-size-fits-all union contracts aren't great for all workers, either. They make it tough for individuals to have their own way.

If the union at your workplace says everyone works an eight-hour day, you can't make your own deal to work a 12-hour day with higher pay. You and your boss might prefer that, but you don't get the option. The union might even call you a troublemaker, saying you put pressure on everyone to work longer hours.

In a pure free market, every entity -- whether individual or a group of individuals -- is able to make whatever contracts they like, so long as the other party agrees.

That system would include you getting to decide whether you want to join a union or remain a free individual operator.

More controversially, it would also include the right of business owners to fire people for trying to organize unions.

In a true free market, workers and management are both allowed to be tough negotiators and make demands. But neither side should have the right to get the government to dictate the terms of a contract.

Keep government out of it, so long as people stick to their contracts and refrain from violence.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great thoughts on Sirach...the book has always intrigued me as well. Superb wisdom and some humor.