Friday, October 28, 2005

Alan Greenspan

As head of the Federal Reserve for over 18 years many have wondered when Alan Greenspan will step aside. In 2000, Ben Bernake posed the question 'What Happens When Greenspan is Gone?' and has since recieved the answer: he'll replace him. Unlike the pathetic nomination of Harriet E. Miers who has already been forced to withdraw her nomination, Bernanke will easily be confirmed by the Senate. He has had a close relationship with Greenspan and has a remarkably impressive academic career. Hence when Greenspan retires in January, we need not worry about a clueless leftist (Paul Krugman anyone?) ruining the economy.
The mainstream view of Greenspan has always been highly favorable. This column on Times Online expresses such a view:

Alan Greenspan has often been described as the second-most important man in America, but this is a gross understatement. Historians who study the late 20th century will devote far more attention to the changes wrought in the world economy by the retiring Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Board than to any of the actions of the four US presidents under whom he has served since 1987.

But is it true what the columnist claims? that he more than anyone else made pure fiat money credible? that he is to blame for strengthening state control over the economy and demonstrating its ability to do this without serious upheavals?
Many will know the close links between Greenspan and my favourite author, Ayn Rand. He contributed to 'Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal' in which he defended the gold standard and economic freedom. So how could a defender of laissez-faire (leave it alone - radical capitalism) led the charge against the gold standard? Murray N. Rothbard, the famous libertarian scholar, gave his opinion in 1987 on why greenspan ought not to be considered a champion of free markets:

There is one thing, however, that makes Greenspan unique, and that sets him off from his Establishment buddies. And that is that he is a follower of Ayn Rand, and therefore "philosophically" believes in laissez-faire and even the gold standard. But as the New York Times and other important media hastened to assure us, Alan only believes in laissez-faire "on the high philosophical level." In practice, in the policies he advocates, he is a centrist like everyone else because he is a "pragmatist."
As an alleged "laissez-faire pragmatist," at no time in his prominent twenty-year career in politics has he ever advocated anything that even remotely smacks of laissez-faire, or even any approach toward it. For Greenspan, laissez-faire is not a lodestar, a standard, and a guide by which to set one's course; instead, it is simply a curiosity kept in the closet, totally divorced from his concrete policy conclusions.

Is the verdict out? did Greenspan cause more harm to liberty than good? I don't know, but it's something worth considering.

Thoughts on Religion

Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason was an attempt to limit reason in order to make room for faith. He knew evidence and argument could not sustain the people’s belief in god. As a healthy individual, I believe my confidence in reason and its ability to perceive reality accurately has led me to deny faith. I long ago identified the reason for my atheism (which is only a denial of the claims of theists) and found that it was precisely my lack of trauma or suffering that caused me to reject faith. Wishing (prayer) and unquestioning obedience to scripture or tradition are the hallmark of someone who is unable to deal with reality. Unlike many theists who worry about death, my thoughts were with life. As someone with self-esteem and self-confidence I did not find it plausible that an omnipotent being exists controlling the natural world nor did I consider morality the domain of religion. I understood that being moral did not mean doing good actions out of duty (or out of desire for salvation) but was tied to reason. Hence my pleasant and quite wonderful childhood led to my atheism. In short, I’ve always thought those with a benevolent sense of life tend to be atheists.
By contrast, many children of religious parents are brought up in an oppressive environment. It ought to be no surprise to parents of faith when they’re children do not follow down the same path; their path brought nothing but misery and depression. Hence when children are brought up around the boredom of reciting ancient fables and chanting simple hymns they’re view of life becomes grim. They’re education on the true nature of good becomes distorted. No surprises then when you hear a porn star came from a strict religious background or that Nietzsche came from a very religious family. Attempts by modern practitioners of faith (in particular evangelical Christianity) to commericalise religious belief and make religion “fun” show how desperate believers have become. While they have kept America religious, the meaning of that has become less and less. The widespread decline of religious life in America demonstrates that healthy, self-confident men do not need god, instead they find it an absurdity and an insult to our intelligence.
Related Links:

The Pillars of Unbelief — Kant
Wikipedia: Immanuel Kant

Follow Up: Religion in a Modern World - It's Dead

In an earlier post, I argued conservatives in New Zealand ought to avoid what has been happening in America and stay away from allowing religion to be infused into politics. I based this on my belief that religion as a force is dead in developed world and has no hope of ever regaining its previous strength*. The reaction of some believers to practice a more fundamental version of their faith reflects this concern over their lack of power to shape the world. They are powerless to stop the spread of a consumerist and materialist culture. They also feel powerless against the intellectual climate. Post-modernism and multiculturalism are both ideologies that are hostile to religion. Post-modernism claims religion has no claim to the truth (nothing does) and multiculturalism places once dominant faiths on an equal footing to newcomers (thus Christianity finds itself equal to Islam in Europe). Over the last few decades the social effects of this have come into place some positive (liberation from old sexual mores) and some negative (rise in divorce etc). Strong conservative theologians like Pope Benedict XVI have attempted to stop this slide towards secular humanism, relativism and materialism. In the Islamic world they are grapping with the problem of modernity and Islam. The experience of the Islamic world is very different to the West, as they never went through the Enlightenment nor the Industrial revolution. The few nations that have developed (Turkey, Malaysia, etc) an industrial or technological base did so largely in partnership with the West over a relatively quick period. The oil rich (mostly Gulf monarchies, but also nations like Nigeria, Libya) Islamic nations had plenty of money thus few saw the necessity in changing and developing an authentic culture of entrepreneurship. Nations with no oil wealth like Egypt (in the late 1970s with Sadat) and Jordan (recent decades) have both been pressed to open and adopt more free economic systems due to economic stagnation (in Egypt this is partially a result of the socialist policies of Nasser). Thus the movement in the Islamic world towards more free economic systems have begun. The beginnings of political freedom are now taking root as events in Lebanon, Afghanistan, and even Egypt testify. Islamic fundamentalism is partially a reaction against modernism and the culture of the West, a phenomenon scholars refer to as 'Islamic revivalism'. Islamists call America the Big Satan not due to its militarty strength but its seductive culture that entices believers away from the true path of Islam. Thus Islamic fundamentalists and many Christain sects have much in common. They knowthat faith is under attack and while it seems a Stalin-Hitler pact is unlikely, on a number of issues they can work together. This is a danger. While they mayattack some false ideologies (like relativism) they nevertheless propose an unworkable solution. Ayn Rand sums up why conservatives will never succeed when they base their defence on weak grounds, like faith:

"A bad argument is worse than ineffectual: it lends credence to the arguments of your opponents. A half battle is worse than none: it does not end in mere defeat--it helps and hastens the victory of your enemies."
["Conservatism: An Obituary," Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 199-200]

*Nietzsche was right. God is dead. This is not an argument for atheism nor an alternative belief system, but merely an observation that recongises the foundations of religion have crumbled and that many of us in the West today live as if god were dead.

Related Links:

Relativism: the central problem for faith today by Pope Joseph Ratzinger (1996)
Remember, this is the same guy who 'obstructed' sex abuse inquiry