Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Price Gouging 

I'm not sure what prompted me to think about this. I have nothing to link to. Just some random train of thoughts that jumped into my head. If economics are of no interest to you, best to skip this.

A few months ago, I completed a construction project on my house. The project planning began before the Florida hurricanes of last summer, but didn't actually get started until after they had occurred. So the builder had to come with revised quotes before any construction had actually started, raising the prices of the lumber and shingles that I needed by a good bit. The demand for lumber and shingles had shot through the roof, because of the hurricane damage to roofs and houses. Plywood had also gone up a lot, due to all of the people boarding up windows.

I have heard this referred to as "price-gouging", that is, companies taking advantage of disasters or calamities to charge exorbitant prices. This of course is an evil corporate thing to do, proving that they are driven only by money. Frequently, even when someone defends the practice, they defend it by saying that the company was forced by supply problems to drive up prices, so that as many people as possible would benefit from the product, which would only be possible at higher prices.

But in a free market, all economic relationships are two-way, and neither side is compelled to engage in the transaction. There is a buyer and a seller, or to look at it another way, there are two traders, both doing the same thing. Both are giving the other trader something they want more than what they have. The buyer wants the lumber more than he wants anything else he could buy with the money, and the seller wants the money more than the lumber. For a free economic exchange to take place, both sides must feel that they will benefit from the transaction. Therefore, whatever "price-gouging" occurs, both sides will still benefit.

And remember again, there are two parties to any transaction and different kinds of disasters or calamities can affect the seller as much as the buyer. Have you ever been to a "going out of business" sale? Or a hail sale? Or an estate sale? How is that different than a natural disaster driving up prices? In those cases, personal, economic or natural misfortunes are driving down the price of goods, and now the buyer is benefitting from those misfortunes instead of the seller. And yet nobody ever accuses the buyer of price gouging. Why not? The economics of the situation are pretty much the same. I know a number of people who will never pay full retail for anything, but prefer to wait for such sales. I try to take advantage of them myself. Is this wrong? Isn't this being "driven by money?" If it's wrong for a company to be driven by profit considerations in their economic choices, isn't it wrong for the individual consumer to be driven by the same thing? If not, then why is it wrong for a business to take advantage of and make a profit from events that drive up people's demand for certain goods, such as a hurricane?

Competition will ensure that the pricing in such an event doesn't get too out of control. If one lumber company doubles its prices after a hurricane, for example, another lumber company will only raise their prices by 90%, ensuring that they get all the business they can handle and still making a fat profit. And a third company will undercut that company's pricing, and so forth, driving costs down to the real cost of supplying the good. As long as there are lots of companies competing, customers will still get the best deal possible. But the statist solution to the problem, which usually is putting price caps on the products, is the best way to limit the profit possibilities of the companies, driving many of them out of business and thereby ensuring that there is less competition. It is the customers in this case which will pay the highest price, as the government-created shortage of supply ensures higher prices because of a lack of competition than would otherwise have been the case.

Just another example of how personal liberty almost always produces better results than collective statist solutions to economic problems (and most other problems too).

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The value of life 

A man with cerebral palsy, named Joe Ford, has written an excellent article for the Harvard Crimson on American attitudes toward the disabled and how this attitude relates to the Schiavo case.

The result of this disrespect is the devaluation of lives of people like Terri Schiavo. In the Schiavo case and others like it, non-disabled decision makers assert that the disabled person should die because he or she—ordinarily a person who had little or no experience with disability before acquiring one—“would not want to live like this.” In the Schiavo case, the family is forced to argue that Terri should be kept alive because she might “get better”—that is, might be able to regain or to communicate her cognitive processes. The mere assertion that disability (particularly cognitive disability, sometimes called “mental retardation”) is present seems to provide ample proof that death is desirable.

Essentially, then, we have arrived at the point where we starve people to death because he or she cannot communicate their experiences to us. What is this but sheer egotism? Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, this is obviously an attempt to play God.

I know people who relate being terrified of retarded people when they were kids. I knew a retarded man from the time I was very small, and never have experienced that fear. I confess to being sometimes uncomfortable, though, with people who are severely disabled. But I wonder how many people would support putting Terri Schiavo to death for no other reason than people in the state she's in make them uncomfortable. The fact that so many people are willing to make the decision that Terri's life is not worth living, without knowing her or even what exact condition she's in, makes me believe that a great many people have taken the position they have for that reason. They don't want to have to deal with that pain, or be helpful, supportive or compassionate, and so they decide for someone else that their life is not worth living. And like the Nazi doctors quoted in the article, they will believe that they are being compassionate by ending the life of someone in such a state, regardless of the wishes of the person in the state.

Terri's life is worth living, whatever condition she's in and whether or not she ever gets better. Life is a blessing from God, and she's not dead. Not yet, anyway.

(Article via Powerline.)

Saturday, March 26, 2005


Dad has posted a lengthy article by the Rev. Warren Embree on the doctrine of the fourth commandment, contrasting the continental position (which he holds) with the Sabbatarian position. It's very interesting. Warren takes the position that I take myself, and his scholarship is thorough, examining not only the Scriptural issues but also the church history aspect of the debate. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

On the Benefits of Mis-spelling 

My post on Terri Schiavo, from a month ago, has received hundreds of hits from especially Google searches and also Yahoo and MSN. Normally my little blog receives far less than that, even when posting on matters of intense interest to the public at large.

In this particular case, I mis-spelled Mrs. Schiavo's first name. I spelled it Terry. A natural mistake, and one which apparently many Googlers have made as well. If I had spelled it right, I would have received nowhere near this many hits, since there are many more prominent sites than mine discussing this issue. An interesting accident, which has resulted in my opinion about the case being seen by perhaps hundreds of people. How's that for irony? A mistake that I made results in my opinion being far more widely distributed than would otherwise have been the case.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Judicial Tyranny 

The old question of judicial overreach, long a concern of conservatives, seems to be taking a turn for the worse right now. With the Republicans in the Senate trying to break a deadlock over nominees, one judge in Florida has taken it upon himself to decide that Terri Schiavo should die. I've written before about the Terri Schiavo case here, but I've been thinking (and listening to Rush Limbaugh) a lot over the last few days, as I drove up to South Dakota and back. There is something about the current approach to the judicial problem, which focuses almost entirely on nominating the right judges, it seems, which bothers me. And over the many hours I've spent in the car in the last four days, I think I know what it is that bothers me about this approach.

You know the old saying, of course, "Power corrupts." I don't think this is quite accurate, since God has absolute power and He is not in the slightest corrupted. But given the sinful human nature, it's not too far off the mark. Perhaps it might be better said, "Power reveals." That is, power shows what's in a man's heart. I am convinced that this is the reason why celebrities and athletes seem to so frequently have such terrible morals. I don't think they're really worse than other people; it's just that their money and fame remove most obstacles to doing whatever they want to do.

In the case of judges, this principle would seem to explain why judges tend to drift leftward. Conservatism hold strongly to the principle of limited government, and it is modern day liberalism which looks to government to solve all problems, and therefore modern liberal political theory which offers any politician more power. If a conservative senator or a representative tries to seize power this way, his constituency can remove him. But there is no check on a judge except higher courts, and of course the highest court of all, the Supreme court, is just as susceptible to this problem as the others. A number of judges in recent years have drifted leftward, like Souter and O'Connor, but I don't think any have become more conservative over the years.

This means that in order to correct the problem of judicial tyranny, the nominations process is not enough. There has to be some accountability for judges after they are appointed; even Supreme Court judges. The constitution of the United States set up various levels of government to act as checks on each other, and some were more democratic and some less. The judicial branch is the least democratic of all- they are not elected and are appointed for life. But this does not mean they are unaccountable. Their jurisdiction can be limited, and they can be impeached. Further, they depend on other branches to enforce their decisions.

If I were the governor of Florida I would use my executive power to protect the life of Terri Schiavo, and I wouldn't care what some judge said. Judges are supposed to interpret law. But if a judge oversteps his authority, I would not allow myself to be subject to his tyranny. It's one thing to have a difference of opinion. It's another for a judge to seize power that is not his.

And if I were a congressman, I would push to impeach the judge that allowed Schiavo to be killed, whether a federal judge or a supreme court judge. I think that the other branches of government have to step in to rein in out of control judges, using their legitimate constitutional powers. They're called "checks and balances" for a reason. This problem will not be solved just through the nominations process, because a lot of judges that are nominated will naturally abuse their power, if there are no consequences for them doing so, and it doesn't matter what their political leanings are going in. It's human nature, and it's why we all have to be accountable.

I am neither a governor nor a senator, of course. I'm a pastor, so I'll keep doing what I've been doing, which is preaching the gospel and teaching people God's principles of right and wrong. But Republicans had better start paying attention. Many of us support them because they seem to be the party that is better in touch with human nature, being limited and imperfect, which is why limited government is so important. But if they become the party of government solutions for all problems (just different solutions), they will lose a lot of support.

Start reining in those judges. Don't just appoint ones you like better. Start slapping down the ones who overstep their authority. Otherwise, the problem will never go away.

Saturday, March 12, 2005


I just found a cool tool called W.Bloggar for posting to Blogspot. It's a client side application, which is especially nice for me with my crappy internet connection. Check it out.


Yes, I know I haven't posted in a long time. Get off my back.

I felt guilty for a while for not posting. And then I remembered- Oh, that's right- this is a hobby. I do this for free. Why should I be a slave to my Sitemeter? I haven't had anything to say. So why say something just for the sake of saying it? Also my internet connection is absolutely ridiculous, and it takes a long time to upload even a simple article. I hopefully will be getting a new connection soon.

If anyone really wants me to post, send me a check for $20. For $50, I'll post on whatever subject you want. For $100, I'll even advance your position on the issue, pretending it's mine.

I will surely post again soon. I sense the checks flowing in now. Check back soon.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Movie Review: Twilight Samurai 

The title evokes a deadly killer, moving through the shadows of twilight to hunt his victim. He is an implacable foe, who blurs the distinction between the Samurai, honorable knight of the Japanese feudal period, and the ninja, the feared assassin and spy. This is not what this movie is about at all.

The Twilight Samurai is about a petty retainer in a Japanese clan, a bureaucrat who works in the storehouses of his clan's castle. His wife has died of consumption and he is left to care for his two daughters and senile mother on a small salary. He has little ambition, and all he wants to do is enjoy his daughters and live in peace.

People try to change him. Family members try to get him married off to different people, and his co-workers are embarrassed of him because all he ever does is work and he doesn't present himself the way a samurai ought. They call him "twilight Seibei" because Seibei never stays out with them at night but always goes home at twilight. But he doesn't care about any of that. He just wants to make his way in the world. He even considers giving up the title of samurai and becoming a peasant farmer. He causes trouble for himself by protecting an old childhood friend from her cruel husband, revealing that he is a skilled swordsman. He tries to downplay the attention this draws to him, not wanting to be thought of as a warrior.

But with the death of the clan lord, the man becomes unable to avoid the bloody times he lives in. The clan comes calling on him, drawing on his skills as a swordsman from the past, skills he has almost forgotten. And as much as he'd like to, the clan will not allow him to refuse.

The Twilight Samurai is a beautiful movie, about a man caught between his duty to his clan and his duty to his family and himself. The lead, Hiroyuki Sanada, brilliantly plays the part. He plays a humble retainer just trying to avoid trouble, and his face and posture is that of a scraping servant when he is in front of his masters and a loving, dignified father when he is with his family. But when he rises to the challenge forced on him by his clan, we see him become something else- a hardened warrior.

This characterization is mirrored by the role played by his childhood friend, the battered wife. She demonstrates herself to be a very unusual woman by pushing for a divorce from her cruel husband, and seeking out Seibei. She makes her intention clear, that she would like to be with Seibei, but she comes from a richer family than Seibei and he is worried that she would suffer from the loss of station. Like him, she just wants to be part of a kind family and lead a simple life, but she, like him, is trapped by the expectations of the times.

The pacing, direction, writing and cinematography are all very well done. I have to judge the writing through the subtitles of course. But the subtitles appear to have been done with care. I can't speak to their accuracy, except they certainly matched the mood of the actors and moved the story along clearly. And they were thorough. Sometimes you can tell a cheap subtitle job by a few written words used to translate a great deal of speaking. Of course, misspellings and bad grammar are a big giveaway too.

This is not a martial arts movie. There are a few fight scenes, and they are gripping. But this is a drama, about a man just trying to make his way in a world that will not leave him alone. Highly recommended. Parts of it are pretty bloody, but there's nothing else at all objectionable in it. I got it from Netflix. I don't know if you could find it at Blockbuster or Hollywood, though.

5/5 stars.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Transcendence and Immanence 

A few of the responses to the Vox Apologia seem to focus on the fact that God is outside of the physical universe and therefore discussions of the physical universe don't need to include God. Blogotional especially is making this argument in his post.

Isn't this an explicit denial of the incarnation? God is both transcendent and immanent- He is outside the system, but He created the system and works in the system constantly. To deny God's immanence is to deny the incarnation and the resurrection of Christ.

When Thomas doubted that Christ had risen from the dead, Jesus didn't say, "well, it's just a matter of faith, it doesn't ultimately matter what happened in the physical world". No, he said, "Touch the nailprints on my hands, and feel the wound in my side." Yes, God is outside the world, but He explicitly claims to be working in the world, and calls us to bear witness to that. The foundation of the faith, as expressed in the Apostles' Creed, is historical events- things that happened on earth, which could be demonstrated scientifically. Science is not and never will be the basis of our faith, but if we say that faith and science don't agree and don't need to agree, we have just denied the importance of the incarnation. We are saved because God works in the universe, in history.

It's one thing to say that God doesn't require scientific support for faith, and that is of course exactly true. That's a big part of my argument here. But if my scientific theories directly contradict the Bible, then that is a problem for faith, a big one. If I say that God is great and I love Him but then deny that He created the universe in the way that He said that He created the universe, then I am belying my claim to faith. How can I worship God, but not believe what He said?

The question, then, is fundamentally a hermeneutical one. What is Genesis 1-2 saying? If a reading of Genesis can be produced to show that God did not actually create the world in six days about ten thousand years ago, then we've got a basis for discussion. But I'm not interested in such a reading that is designed to simply accommodate the text to the opinions of atheists. Start with the text, limit your concerns to the text and have as your goal the understanding of the text. Blogotional's whole discussion never once even references what Genesis 1 says, which tells me his concerns lie elsewhere.

"Has God really said?" Yes, He has.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

I Can't believe I didn't include this in my last post 

Some more thoughts regarding this issue:

From the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Luke 16:29-31:
29 "Abraham said to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.'
30 "And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'
31 "But he said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.' "

It's not about evidence. It's about being willing to listen to the word of God, or not.

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