Thursday, January 19, 2012

Representative Democracy Reimagined

I was reading G.K. Chesterton's All Things Considered (which, incidentally, I highly recommend) and I came across this passage:

Allied to this question is the kindred question on which we so often hear an innocent British boast--the fact that our statesmen are privately on very friendly relations, although in Parliament they sit on opposite sides of the House. Here, again, it is as well to have no illusions. Our statesmen are not monsters of mystical generosity or insane logic, who are really able to hate a man from three to twelve and to love him from twelve to three... If our statesmen agree more in private, it is for the very simple reason that they agree more in public. And the reason they agree so much in both cases is really that they belong to one social class; and therefore the dining life is the real life. Tory and Liberal statesmen like each other, but it is not because they are both expansive; it is because they are both exclusive.

Chesterton was writing about early 20th century England, but his observation is every bit as true today.

The New York Times reports that the median net worth of members of Congress is about $913,000 compared to the $100,000 for the general population.

Nearly half the members of Congress are millionaires. In contrast, only five percent of the general population has a million or more in the bank. (Or stocks and so on.)

Rather than being a straightforward case of politicians being bought and paid for by lobbyists, they are influenced by what they are exposed to and who they associate with-- other super rich people.

Under the current system, it takes huge boatloads of money to run a political campaign. That guarantees that most of the public will be represented by people from a different socio-economic status than their own.

I began to wonder what would happen if, rather than choosing our representatives geographically, we required them to represent us by tax bracket. After all, doesn't a laborer in California have more in common with a laborer in South Dakota than he has with a millionaire in his own state? Doesn't a Texas oil baron have more in common with a Wall Street billionaire than he has with a waitress in his own state?

What do you suppose our congress would look like if we had an electoral college, not for states, but for socio-economic groupings? What types of laws might we have? How would our national priorities change or would they?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Passage of the Day: G.K. Chesterton on Self-Help Books

There has appeared in our time a particular class of books and articles which I sincerely and solemnly think may be called the silliest ever known among men... these things are about nothing; they are about what is called Success. On every bookstall, in every magazine, you may find works telling people how to succeed. They are books showing men how to succeed in everything; they are written by men who cannot even succeed in writing books. To begin with, of course, there is no such thing as Success. Or, if you like to put it so, there is nothing that is not successful. That a thing is successful merely means that it is; a millionaire is successful in being a millionaire and a donkey in being a donkey... I really think that the people who buy these books (if any people do buy them) have a moral, if not a legal, right to ask for their money back...

If you want to succeed at whist, either be a good whist-player, or play with marked cards. You may want a book about jumping; you may want a book about whist; you may want a book about cheating at whist. But you cannot want a book about Success... You may want to jump or to play cards; but you do not want to read wandering statements to the effect that jumping is jumping, or that games are won by winners...

Or suppose that in the course of his intellectual rambles the philosopher of Success dropped upon our other case, that of playing cards, his bracing advice would run--"In playing cards it is very necessary to avoid the mistake (commonly made by maudlin humanitarians and Free Traders) of permitting your opponent to win the game...

Turning over a popular magazine, I find a queer and amusing example. There is an article called "The Instinct that Makes People Rich." It is decorated in front with a formidable portrait of Lord Rothschild. There are many definite methods, honest and dishonest, which make people rich; the only "instinct" I know of which does it is that instinct which theological Christianity crudely describes as "the sin of avarice." That, however, is beside the present point.

-From All Things Considered by G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Fattened Your Hearts in a Day of Slaughter...

Here is one of those Bible passages you don't hear often at "prosperity gospel" churches:

James 5. Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. 4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.

Bibles, Crossway (2011-02-09). The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (p. 1013). Crossway.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Imagine No Posessions

...the Poverelio (Francis’s nickname, which means “little poor man”) believed material possessions to be "evil”; he loved the whole of creation too much to reject any part of it. Francis asked his followers to live in poverty because he believed that such a life—style would release them from self—centered demands for control. "Living without property,” Francis once explained, "means never getting upset by anything that anybody does."

In Saint Francis’s understanding, material poverty creates an emptiness that may then be filled by spiritual reality. In renouncing our claim to possessions, we open ourselves to spirituality because we are also (and this is the more significant act) renouncing our self—will. Francis honored "Lady Poverty" because he believed that being without possessions makes it much less likely that we will insist on our own will the willfulness that becomes the claim to be "God."

Completely unprotected, we discover a new way of seeing: Rather than looking for
what we don’t have, we truly see what we do have. We learn to discern God’s gift in everything that happens to us.

from The Spirituality of Imperfection by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Shopping for Peace of Mind

Socrates believed that the wise person would instinctively lead a frugal life, and he even went so far as to refuse to wear shoes. Yet he constantly fell under the spell of the marketplace and would go there often to look at tl1e great variety and magnificence of the wares on display. A friend once asked him why he was so intrigued with the allures of the market. "I love to go there," Socrates replied, "to discover how many things I am perfectly happy without."
-From The Spirituality of Imperfection by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham