Worth Reading - 7/21

Here are some links worth reading this weekend:

1. In the vein of the just for fun, a recent Washington Post article profiled a 101 year old woman who broke the world record for the 100 meter dash.

It was a hot and muggy afternoon when Julia Hawkins headed out for a practice sprint on the street in front her house.

She steeled her gaze on the 50-meter mark on the far end of her property line, crouched down in a starting position and took off, clocking in the 50 meters at just over 19 seconds.

Hawkins is 101 years old.

Several times a week she’s out in front of her Baton Rouge house trying to improve her time. This week, she hopes all of that practice will pay off when she competes for a gold medal in the National Senior Games held in Birmingham, Ala.

2. At Public Discourse an author rightly argues that the best defense of the free markets needs to reflect an economics submitted to a righteous ethics and a robust anthropology. Anything else will be inhumane and unpalatable. 

Capitalism has been a tremendous force for good in the world, lifting more people out of poverty than at any other time in history, because a truly free market gives more people access to real capital. The upward mobility provided by modern capitalism has been the surest path to the kind of liberty that no socialist or democrat-led order has ever provided. Increased regulation of and government intrusion into the marketplace are characteristic of stifling and oppressive social and political orders. “Crisis in the pre-capitalist era,” Brian Domitrovic has rightly pointed out, “inevitably meant not merely destitution, but famine. Famine is unknown in capitalist history.” But destitution, famine, and the shortcomings of socialism generally remain visible even today in non-capitalist economies, like that of Venezuela. Anyone worried about poverty, the narrative concludes, really ought to support capitalism.

There is substantial merit to arguments like this one; the destruction endemic to socialist regimes, indeed, should never be forgotten. The argument for capitalism, though, shouldn’t just be an argument against socialism. Before explaining away the rejection of capitalism, it would be wise to ask whether there really is something else motivating it, something that the standard narrative misses. I believe that there is. Defenders of capitalism need a more humane anthropology, sensitive to man’s social and communal nature, lest they forget to ask the crucial question of what economics is for.

3. While on the subject of economics, here is an overview of how socialism has worked out in Venezuela:

Venezuela was once the richest country in South America, but food prices have skyrocketed in recent years, forcing many to scavenge for things to eat. The cost of basic groceries is now about five times the minimum wage.

On July 1, the monthly minimum wage was raised for the third time this year, to help control inflation. Still, the increase does little to help struggling families, and the country’s inflation rate could reach 720 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

4. Samuel James wrote an interesting post about the creeping moralism of the left, which, he argues, sounds a lot like the legalistic moralism of '90's homeschool fundies. The point is that absent a relational morality, people tend to substitute a legalistic morality, no matter what the base beliefs are.

When a friend sent me the link to this essay by a progressive bookstore employee, whose aching moral dilemma is whether to sell a book he disagrees with politically, my response was simple. I said, “American progressive culture has become mid-1990s homeschool chain email culture.” Here’s what I mean by that. Growing up in a conservative, evangelical, homeschool niche, I am quite familiar with the idea that there are certain ideas, expressed in certain books, movies, or rock albums, that people who want to keep their heart pure should just not entertain. This kind of avoidance ethic doesn’t feel strange to me. It feels nostalgic. If this blogger were talking about Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets instead of Hillbilly Elegy, if he had used all the same anathemas and descriptions and moral superlatives but applied them to Hogwarts instead of Vance, I would know his story immediately.

What this tormented bookseller has so helpfully demonstrated in his piece is that you can take a man out of church, but you can’t church out of a man. If God is dead, that’s not the end of the story. You have to name a successor. For what feels like a huge slice of American culture, that heir is politics. God is dead, long live politics. This writer talks of Hillbilly Elegy not as if it were a piece of cultural criticism he dislikes, but as if it were a work of heresy that his very soul might be compromised by selling. I feel for him. I know the thought process he’s going through, because it’s the same thought process that prevented from me taking that high school job at the local video rental store, knowing there’d customers who wanted the films from the “back room.”

5. People often criticize markets as unfair and inhibiting the poor from participating. In this instance, as described by Anthony Bradley, the poor are locked out of the market due to government control. The latter is more typical these days.

On a hot and humid 88-degree summer day in Washington, D.C. in June, three teenagers were handcuffed and detained for selling water.

Yes, water. The teens were not selling drugs, stolen merchandise or bootleg cigarettes. They were selling water on the National Mall.

According to the U.S. Park Police, the teens were handcuffed for illegally vending without a license. They were detained by police but eventually released to their parents without charges. While this might seem like a minor incident, it is one all too frequent example of government taking away opportunities from young entrepreneurs.