Clearing a path to affordable living

Standing between you and your living

Markets are most advantageous to individual participants in a state of perfect competition, where we find fair wages, fair prices, and fair opportunities.  Perfect competition is unattainable in any market. However, this does not mean our society should not strive to attain it.  With the passing of Sherman Anti-Trust legislation in 1890, Congress first recognized the public’s need for competition.  Congress recognized that some extremely large corporations were creating insurmountable barriers to entry for competitors.  The government knew that the best way to promote competition in a market is by minimizing that market’s barriers to entry, and therefore passed anti-trust laws.  Current Anti-Trust legislation protects against the abusive strangling of competition that was prevalent in the pre-income tax days of the late nineteenth century; but today, competition’s adversaries are subtle, suffocating forces, that the old competition laws do not address. These newer anti-competitive forces, though subtle, are undeniably more numerous, more pervasive, and more restrictive than the old tactics of the “robber barons.”  Moreover, these anti-competitive measures have used and seek to further use the government, which exists only for the benefit of the public, as a means for stifling competition.  Why would a corporation seek–even write–legislation that restricts its own industry, but for the restriction it puts on its competitors and the protection it provides itself?

It is still true, as any economist or well-educated politician will admit, that maximizing competition involves recognizing and breaking down barriers to entry; in order to walk the proper path, we must first blaze and cut the trail, and we will find it necessary to dispose first of the largest and thorniest impediments.  When the task is so simple as cutting a literal trail in the woods, the greatest obstructions are visible to all; but when we are asked to clear the severely mangled path of the invisible market, the prickles and roots must be uncloaked, and the path’s participants (the public) allowed full view of them. They might be surprised to learn that the largest obstructions are called “taxes” and the most vexing weeds “regulations,” which multiply so quickly that the eye cannot watch them, and the mind cannot fathom their extent.  In almost every market’s path, individuals will find–upon diligent examination–that the elimination of only taxes and regulations would leave a clearing so starkly contrasted to the brush that currently lies before them, that it would be cause for celebration.  They could imagine themselves skipping where those obstacles once stood.

After this honest presentation, market participants are left with real choices: they may try to maneuver through the cramped, bladed monstrosity; they may become frazzled, and sit in their place as eternal sideliners, watching with amazement or amusement as others awkwardly navigate the improper market; but eventually, having their unoffending humility tortured to action, they shall realize the utility of hatchets and chainsaws, and choose a delegation to take up axes or machete, and begin destroying the offensive contrivances that stand in their path, replacing tax and regulation with opportunity and innovation–economic revolution.

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Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem (05.14.08)

I continue to be frustrated by the nature of holocaust conversations.  The sole intent of such discussions is almost always the provocation of emotional reaction and attachment.  To me, if we simply become attached to the victims emotionally, we unwittingly blind ourselves to the condition of the perpetrators.

Our guide Moshe asks, “How could people have allowed this to happen?  How could they have done it?”  He then admits he has no answer, and seems never to have searched for one, for a brief inquiry into German history will quickly cure his perplexion.

In a democracy, successful politicians must carefully place the blame for societal maladies on anyone but themselves, and offer solutions to those problems.  After nearly a half century of relatively dormant anti-Semitism, Germany faced great economic and political strife after World War I, and the political establishment of that country was in need of a scapegoat, the identity of which was chosen out of convenience more than anything else.

The facts that are ignored at Yad Vashem–the most important lessons of the Holocaust–and which are also ignored by most supposed torchbearers of the phrase “never again” are these

  • Governments lie
  • Governments kill
  • Government propagandize
  • Governments exist in spite of the goodness of human society, and seek primarily to maintain and grow themselves.
  • Governments get the benefit of the doubt when the subject of truth is in question.
  • No government is immune to these diseases.
  • When a government requires secrets, NO ONE is safe.

Going hiking (05.16.08)

Yesterday we went to Zevat, a beautiful old city with a history of violence.  I bought a photograph (artistic double exposure) of a man praying at the Western Wall.  The drive north to Zevat was highlighted by the border fence between Jewish Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  There is a quiet but undeniable animosity between the Israeli Jews and the Palestinians, that seems certainly unnatural–if not an abomination–and allows for an easy segue into the most interesting event of the day, the Kabbalah lecture in the gallery of David Friedland.

David talked about Kabbalistic mantras of non-dualism and universality.  Many members of our group were unmoved by David’s words, but I found myself in profound agreement with him.  Are we really so incompatible–the Palestinians and Jews?  Both religions value the same characteristics–the oneness of God, humility, respect, love–but still manage to fall victim to the soul-corrupting forces around them.

What reason has the peaceful farmer of one country to put down his plow, and lift up sword against the peaceful farmer of another, but through the means of a false authority?  This is a useful question that, I believe, is at the heart of what David Friedland was trying to convey.

To talk of the “peaceful farmer” of one nation with any true authority, one must first know that man exists, and I do.  One of the soldiers in our group, Tzahi, led us to his family’s farm, just three kilometers from the Lebanese border.  Here was a small farm not unlike the one my grandmother grew up on, decades ago in rural Tennessee.  The family was a peaceful and welcoming bunch.  They allowed us to ride their horses, eat fruit from their trees, and collect eggs from their hen house.  I would be willing to bet there are peaceful farms like this one, on the other side of the border, with peaceful, welcoming families, who are also mournfully propagandized by a false authority that pits humankind against itself in war.  It seems to me that this cannot be the will of God, but a result of the human ignorance thereof, or a human arrogance that would assume rule over God’s domain.

Last night we stayed in cabins, and the common area had a basketball court and picnic tables.  We played basketball and guitar, and sang–“Freebird” and “The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room” were my humble contributions.  Today we hike and swim.

Shabbat at the spring/pool (05.17.08)

Yesterday we drove to the Golan heights.  We hiked (seriously) to a pool at the foot of a waterfall, where most of us swam.  At the end of the trail, a refreshing reminder of the advantages of capitalism greeted us in the form of a well-placed ice cream truck.  Then we rode to Mount Bental, a hill that overlooks the Syrian border.

The contention for this land has shaped Israeli politics since he late 1960s.  It is a beautiful area, and a strategic high ground for Israeli forces.

Shabbat in Israel is much like Sunday in the United States.  Some people take the religious aspects of the weekend more seriously than others.  We prayed, and I was surprised to learn that the services in Israel are much shorter and much more relaxed than in the U.S.  The prayers have three main themes under God: peace, gratitude, and freedom.  I say “under God” because of the assumption true faith requires–that anything humankind can possibly contrive will always be inferior to the natural state of creation.  To allow any delegation of humans, regardless of their supposed benevolence and intellect, to alter the inalienable natural rights of humankind in God’s image, is to practice idolatry, giving to a committee the responsibilities and respects that should only be contracted between an individual and his/her own given nature.

This assumption of faith leads naturally to the religious rejection of coercive government, and faith in freedom and power higher than any person or group of people.  This faith is the philosophy through which all religions originate, and all religions, at their roots, are undeniably anarchistic.  Yet this, the holyland, is undeniably over-governed, and–forgive the following generalization–the people here credit all of their blessings to their own religion, and all of their problems to a different religion, never realizing their religions are rightfully united, and their opinions by ruling idols divided. 

The heart of what is called the holyland is chilled to the core by an ever-multiplying prejudice among its residents–both Jewish and Muslim.  A human is a human is a human, and each of us is equal before God, without regard to race, religion, location, creed, status, or chance–everyone who doesn’t realize this as fact, should humiliate their own thoughts, before nature and time do the deed for them.

Judaism Discussion and events (05.17.08-05.18.08)

Is Judaism a religion or a nationality?  This is a controversial question in this controversial nation. 

For me, it is only a religion.  The establishment of any “religious state” contradicts principles necessary to a free society, yet claims of freedom abound in this country, as if the word’s meaning has been altered entirely.  The claim that people may have different definitions of freedom is as absurd as the arbitrary proposal that some people should be more free than others.

It is unpardonable that we, as Jews and humans, should practice the faults of government that we recognize as deplorable in others; the hypocrisy is too obvious not to be seen, and–were it not a serious matter–the absurdity would be too great not to be laughed at.  It is an idiotic and blasphemous rejection of God’s gift of reason to take the proponents of any religious state seriously.

We were asked about a decision of the Israeli supreme court that involved citizenship for a man whose Judaism was in question.  The attempts at answering this question with pure moral conviction were amusing if not frustrating.  My answer, of course, was that the law itself was a bad one.  First, laws difficult to be executed generally cannot be good, and second, it is unnatural that a pure stream should flow from a foul spring.

We were also given a list of activities that Jews consider important, and asked to list them in order of importance for our group.  This set the stage for an argument between myself and Joe Gatorade.  For me, the most important given activity of being Jewish was reading books about Judaism.  Joe believed it was to call oneself Jewish, and iterated that there was little importance in reading about Judaism.  Taken to its logical end–ambitiously assuming it has a beginning–his argument is that it is most important to identify with a word that one cannot even define.

Leaving politics and religious doctrine to the criminals and feeble minds they attract, I will turn to the events of reality.  We went to a pool next to the hostel yesterday.  Then we discussed Judaism.  Then we travelled to Afula for dinner (shwarma, falafel, or pizza).  Today we leave the hostel and travel to Jerusalem.

Tale of Ben Yehuda Street (05.19.08)

Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street is Jewish Gatlinburg.  They sell overpriced jewelry, sunglasses, food, and souvenirs to tourists.  No rational economic participant would wish to go shopping there, and it is safe to assume that no native of Jerusalem actually shops there.

I walked around Ben Yehuda Street with a delightful group of girls, including Ivy Lynn, the Schneider sisters, and Perri.

Dead Sea and Masada (05.20.08)

Today we went to Masada and the Dead Sea–both were beautiful and unique.

Masada’s history, which glorifies religious terrorism, is more than a little ironic.  Historically, we regard Jewish terrorists with reverence, but presently, Islamic terrorists are considered lower than the salt floors of the Dead Sea.

Standing atop Masada, one can look down on creation, and almost see the word of God.  It is the closest view of revelation I have ever experienced.  What so-called religious scholars have defined as revelation, or the literal word of God, is nothing more than hearsay.  Revelation is by definition direct, from creator (or creation) to individual, and cannot be designed in human language.  Therefore the only experience one can rightly call revelation is a direct individual experience that requires neither language nor interpreter.  Creation and creator speak for themselves, and are best understood through the studies of science and philosophy, as well as rational individual existence.