Monday, 28 February 2011

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

My Kayak of Consistency

Political Dualism - Mere Christendom
Written by Douglas Wilson
Saturday, February 26, 2011

There are two basic streams of conservatism, and I have the misfortunate to belong to both of them. This means that as I am going down this particular river, whenever I get to the rapids, my kayak of consistency gets bounced around a bit. It can be done, but it requires some fancy paddle work, just a-going.

Those two types of conservatism are the Burkean and the libertarian, with the guiding principles of tradition and liberty. Tradition in the Burkean sense is consistent with liberty because in the West many of our traditions were shaped by the gospel. And because God of providence has a sense of humor, the second stream of conservatism is the older form of classical liberalism.

No human arrangement is absolute. Only God's Word is absolute. So what does this mean?

If someone takes human choices in the marketplace as his absolute, the end result will be a market in which the fundamental commodity will be the souls of men. But if someone takes the law of God as his direction, the end result will be a market in which a man can buy and sell his cabbages or cabinets or cars without getting permission from some functionary at the the Department of Hubris.

If someone takes human tradition as absolute, the end result will be a stifling and oppressive regime, and way too many bishops. But if someone takes the law of God for his guide, the end result will be deep respect for the established authorities, including even some of the bishops.

So take it from me -- you can't have the fruit without the tree.

If you take God's law as absolute, you will not take it upon yourself to act coercively without warrant from Him. This will result in an enormous amount of economic liberty. If you restrict only those transactions that you have biblical warrant for restricting, then the result will be far more freedom than we currently have. This is why accusations that a "mere Christendom" would result in "oppression" are so risible. Are you joking me?

In our current system, a contractor on a building site can't scratch his rear end without talking to the building inspector about it first. Tell me more about this free society you are so anxious to preserve. Are we dropping bombs in the Middle East to protect our right to be groped in a TSA line? Being lectured on our potential "oppressions" from today's statists is like being lectured on public hygiene by Typhoid Mary. I can never make it through even one lecture without fidgeting in my seat. And they never seem to allow time for Q&A.

Liberty is not the standard. Respect for authority is not the standard. Both of those things are the fruit, resulting from faithful acceptance of what God says to do. When a society ignores what God says to do, and the grace in Christ enabling us to do it, the end result is what we see around us -- the erosion of both our liberties and our traditions. As Lewis put it so aptly, we laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings to be fruitful. We remove the organ and demand the function.

Both forms of conservatism have been great blessings from God. But without Jesus, we won't have either for very much longer.

A New Russian Emigration

The Return of Pushkin's World

We posted recently on the endemic and systemic corruption in Russia. This is of some interest to New Zealand, since we are the first country in the world to begin negotiating a free trade agreement with that country.

Here is another take: Russia is a "neo-feudal" society. The thesis is that Russia is far away from totalitarianism; individual liberty remains firmly established. The power of central government is limited. Government is decentralised. Vladislav L. Inozemtsev, writing in American Interest Online, says this describes a society that is more feudal than modern--but, he argues, it is traditional and it works, up to a point.

Contemporary Russia is not a candidate to become a Soviet Union 2.0. It is a country in which citizens have unrestricted access to information, own property, leave and return to the country freely, and develop private businesses of all kinds. Of course, severe restrictions in the political sphere remain in place, and the country, as President Dmitry Medvedev himself recently said, “only to a certain extent, not fully”, meets the standards of democracy.

Clearly, this arrangement—economic freedom coupled with political constraint—does not please everyone. To the standard American mind it suggests that something has got to give. This, too, is wrong. Some Russians do give voice to dissatisfaction with the current regime and the widespread abuse of power by police authorities, local officials and oligarchs closely connected with the ruling bureaucracy. Yet the system seems fundamentally solid and durable. Its strength emanates from a basic principle: It is much easier for subjects to solve their problems individually than to challenge national institutions collectively. This is because what Westerners would call corruption is not a scourge of the system but the basic principle of its normal functioning. Corruption in Russia is a form of transactional grease in the absence of any generally accepted and legally codified alternative. Taken together, these transactions well describe a form of neo-feudalism. This should not be terribly surprising to the historically aware, for that was more or less the stage that Russian socio-economic development had reached when it was frozen by more than seventy years of Communist rule. It has now thawed.

In this system, bribery is more paying for protection and governance. This functions like paying tribute to one's feudal lord, in return for protection and some assistance.
At every level of the hierarchy a certain degree of bribery and clientalist parochialism is not only tolerated but presupposed in exchange for unconditional loyalty and a part of the take for one’s superiors. The system is based on the economic freedom of its citizens, but cautious political restrictions on these freedoms generate the wealth of the biggest beneficiaries. There is a cascade of floors and ceilings to the restrictions on freedom, so it is a feudalism with more levels than the old kind. But it works fundamentally the same way: The weak pay tribute “up”, and the strong provide protection “down.”

Inozemtsev goes on to argue that the governing elites in Russia have become progressively more incompetent and less educated. They are more and more time-servers. He describes a world that roughly resembles that portrayed in Pushkin's short stories. His description is eerily familiar to any who have read Pushkin. Russia appears to be operating in a manner not far removed from the old imperial tsarist system.
Clearly, Russia’s current political elite is dramatically less competent than the Soviet bureaucratic class used to be, but signs of its de-professionalization can be found throughout society. Today, only 14 percent of those graduating from Russian universities specialize in engineering. In Germany it is 29 percent, and in China it is close to 42 percent. Because of the lack of professional credentials, careers are made mostly due to personal relationships; experience and performance really don’t matter. The CEO of Gazprom, Alexei Miller, had no experience in energy businesses when he was appointed to the top position in the company. Even with gas prices soaring, Gazprom’s production fell from 523.2 billion cubic meters in 2000 to 461.5 billion in 2009. The CEO of Rosatom, former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, has no experience in the nuclear sector. Only one of the 11 new nuclear reactors he promised to install in Russia when he was appointed in 2005 has been put into operation.

What does the galloping de-professionalization of the Russian elite actually mean? Lately, it has meant that becoming a lifelong bureaucrat is extremely popular. That’s where the money is.

One outcome of this is an emerging feudal plutocracy. In old Russia, position and power was based on land, hereditary titles, and military commissions. In new Russia it is based on government service and oil-extracted wealth.
The second trend is even more obvious: Money today cannot only be “extracted” from the public service sector; it can also buy influential positions in the power elite. For example, there are more than 49 “official” U.S. dollar millionaires and six billionaires sitting in the state Duma, and 28 millionaires and five billionaires in the Council of the Federation. In contrast, Silvio Berlusconi is the only billionaire ever to win a seat in any parliament of any of the original 15 EU countries. Since the Duma and the Council of the Federation are composed of deputies handpicked by the Kremlin, one need not strain oneself to imagine how these super-rich people acquired their offices. They pay “up” with both lucre and loyalty, and they are protected “down”—a hallmark of feudal social exchange. At the same time, the majority of Russian ministers are trying to convince ordinary citizens that their average official income is less than $100,000 a year. Whether or not anyone believes them, there are no indebted Ministers or bankrupt Governors to be found in the country these days.

Another emerging trend is familial nepotism.
Sons and daughters of top officials actively insinuate themselves into government bodies, as well as into the staff of big state-owned and state-controlled corporations. For example, Dmitry Patrushev, the eldest son of Nikolay Patrushev, the Director of the FSB from 1999–2008, was in May 2010, at the age of 32, appointed as the CEO of state-controlled Rosselkhozbank, the fourth largest bank in Russia. Sergei Matvienko, son of Valentina Matvienko, the Governor of St. Petersburg, is now chairman of VTB-Development, the real estate branch of the state-owned VTB Bank and, at the age of 37, is one of the youngest Russian billionaires. Sergei Ivanov, son of the aforementioned Deputy Prime Minister, had just turned 25 when he was appointed vice president of Gazprombank, Gazprom’s financial arm, and so on. One can be sure that the children of the current top Russian bureaucrats will occupy at least a third of all significant positions in government and management in ten to 15 years. And it is clear that none of them will have the slightest incentive to change the system. They will strongly oppose any change so that they may favor their children. They are the barons in the new feudalism, and their children are to the manor born.

In insular tsarist Russia, emigres could be found throughout Europe. The same is happening today. The best and the brightest, unable to advance through the suffocating blankets of family controlled bureaucracies and government structures, leave.
What about Russia’s best and brightest? What future do they have in a neo-feudal Russia? During the Putin years, government officials made it ever more difficult for liberal young people to engage in any form of legal protest activity. No new political party has officially registered itself in the Russian Federation since the beginning of the 2000s (the two that have been registered, Just Russia and Right Cause, represent a mere allocation of smaller parties that existed previously). Organizing a referendum requires the collection of two million signatures, and even if this requirement were met, most would be declared invalid. All but one regional legislative assembly is controlled by the United Russia Party. At the same time, the government still allows people to leave the country freely. This is no accident. The scale of the outflow of the most talented young prospective professionals from Russia is almost beyond belief. The numbers are not known exactly, but estimates run as high as 40,000–45,000 per year, and about three million Russian citizens today are expatriates in the European Union.

The conclusion:
The Russian elite has essentially “piratized” and privatized one of the world’s richest countries. It is so grateful for this privilege that it may insist on Mr. Putin’s return to the Kremlin in 2012 for 12 more dismal years. By then the young liberal cohorts on whom so many Western analysts pinned their hopes for change will have grown up. The mediocre among them will be part of the system. Most of the best of them, no doubt, will no longer reside in Russia.

Behind all this, we suspect, lie the failings and weaknesses of the Russian Orthodox Church which seeks to lock the faith into timelessness, having little or no sense of historical development and the progressive Christianisation of the earth. This "other worldliness" enabled the Orthodox Church to survive Stalin, but it is unable to transform Russia into a thoroughly Christian country. Consequently, nepotists fill the vacuum.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

Who Owns the Job?

Money, Love, Desire - The Good of Affluence
Written by Douglas Wilson
Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Just a quick note about "collective bargaining." The real question for those who would understand the nature of unions is the question of ownership. Say there is a particular job at the office building, or at the factory, or in the shop on Main Street. Who owns that job?

The assumption behind collective bargaining is that the one who holds the job owns the job. The biblical understanding is that the one who offers the job owns the job (Matt. 20:15). This is not the same as saying that the employer is a great guy. No, the owners of jobs are frequently evil, and they abuse their position of ownership (James. 5:4).

Labor/management disputes often fall into a false good guy/bad guy dichotomy, and it betrays a false understanding of the antithesis. In the Bible the owners are often the bad guys. But that does not mean they are not the owners of the jobs they offer. Bad guys can own things. And the commandment does not say, "Thou shalt not steal, except from bad guys."

So there is absolutely nothing wrong with employees collectively deciding that conditions on the job are horrendous, and deciding en masse that they don't want to work there anymore. And there is no problem with them negotiating with the owner from that collective position. Say they are asking for a raise, or for safer working conditions. That is fully legitimate as well. What is not legitimate is for them to lock up the job they have abandoned as though they are the owners of it. To refuse to work a job that you simultaneously lay claim to is a claim of ownership, which in this case is a false claim.

This sin (and it is a sin) is in evidence when strikers attack what they call "scabs." Scabs are workers looking for employment, and the horrendous conditions on the abandoned job would, in their instance, be an improvement.

In other words, collective bargaining is nothing but extortion, and Christians should do everything in their power to have nothing to do with it.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Education that Works

The Chill Winds of Competition

Teacher unions in New Zealand are pathologically opposed to private, non-unionised schools. They share this stance with most teacher unions in the West. The drama being played out presently in Indiana and Wisconsin is just the latest stoush. Since the government money has run out, teacher unions are starting to feel the chill winds. They are blowing from a number of directions.

Antidote to Government-Run Education

by Kyle Olson

Charter schools are facing increasing fierce attacks by organized labor – because they work.  Most of them are publicly funded and are not bound by inch-thick union contracts that stipulate what teachers don’t have to do and which hoops administrators have to jump through in order to hold their employees accountable.
Some charter schools don’t produce the desired results.  But because of the agreement between the school and their state, if they aren’t up to snuff, they can be shut down.  If only the same could be said of traditional public systems in Detroit, Chicago or Los Angeles.

Indianapolis Public Schools is a dismal mess.  Leaders there do whatever they can to keep the ship afloat, regardless of the harm it brings to the children of the city. Parents are desperate for choices – and they found one in the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School.

Tindley Accelerated School was started by education visionaries who bought an old grocery store, put up some walls, hired quality teachers and began educating kids. Today, those kids are out-performing their peers in the very same neighborhood, dispelling many myths.

The success of Tindley Accelerated School is showing that anyone can learn when the culture is right. Fancy buildings and heavy spending are not requirements for impressive academic results.

In the pitched battle over education reform that is going on in Indiana right now, the state is expanding reforms that are working, much to the dismay of the Indiana State Teachers Association. But union leaders have vowed to do whatever they can to hamper reform, even if it means sentencing kids to failing schools.
Who will win? It’s a deadly serious question, because nothing less than the future of Indiana (and of the entire United States) is at stake.

This sounds familiar. Maybe we could do with Charter Schools reform in New Zealand.

Update on Sayed Musa . . .

Sayed Musa Now Free

This account just in from International Christian Concern

Unable to confirm from other sources.  

Offense That Heals

In Solidarity, At Golgotha

Along with doubtless everyone in the country we have been exercised and provoked in soul by the Christchurch quake. We are also approaching Easter when judgment fell upon our Lord. That too is always trying time, when we, along with all Believers, stand at Golgotha and contemplate what we have done. With the hymn writer we confess:
Behold the Man upon a cross
My guilt upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

The article of Christ's substitutionary atonement comes right out of Scripture itself. The Apostle Peter, speaking under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, declares, "And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the Cross . . ." (I Peter 2:24) Golgotha is a place of terrible divine judgment and retribution. The guilt of all the sin of all His people fell upon Him; He bore it for them in their place.

Therefore, Golgotha is also a place where Believers, along with the Saviour, die. You cannot have one without the other. You cannot, on the one hand, believe that the Christ loved His people so much that He bore the wrath of God on their behalf, without on the other, judging and rejecting one's own life of sinfulness, mockery and unbelief. So, Peter again: "And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the Cross that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed." (I Peter 2:24)

Jesus under the Judge and Executioner. That is what Golgotha is about. All Christians know this. They know they stand in the judgment of God upon them, in Christ. It is not a pleasant place to be. But if there is to be any hope, any love, any consolation at all it will only be found at this wretched place, and in this Person.

The modern Unbeliever bridles at suggestions which makes even an oblique reference to divine judgment. This vituperative reaction takes place on two levels. The first level is that of scorning and mockery. The entire concept of God's judgment presupposes not only God, but that He is holy and hates evil. Since the modern Unbeliever has carefully constructed and drawn to himself a narrative of God's non-existence, his religious predilections require him to scorn and mock Christians when they warn of God's judgment to come.

The second level is more sinister, but related to the first. All stories of God not-being-true are actually suppressions of the truth. Therefore, when Christians speak to Unbelievers of the judgment to come there is a conscience-borne ring of truth to it. This ordinarily produces reactions of fear, loathing, hatred and disgust amongst Unbelievers. The truth hurts the sinful heart; this truth hurts most of all.

The mockery and scorning become quickly incandescent.

We have seen this occur in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake. Some Christians have suggested that it serves as a warning of the judgment to come. Immediately otherwise normally sane and balanced folk have jumped all over them, spraying spittle-flecked outrage in every direction. Here is the one that we laugh at the most: those Christians who dare even to suggest that the hand of God lies behind the earthquake in Christchurch, we are told, are the moral equivalent of Islamic fundamentalists. Now you just know that reason and judiciousness has flown the coop when those who warn of God's judgement are made the religious and moral equivalent of those who conspire and perpetrate murders.

For Christians this is nothing new at all. They live daily in the judgment of God. They have come to faith only through both acknowledging God as their Judge and seeing sentence carried out upon their Lord in their place. Moreover, that Moderns get so wound up at the notion betrays an ignorance of the Christian faith that is profound. All through history, Christians believe that God has judged people and nations for their stiff necked arrogance and rebellion against Him. Noah and the great Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, Egypt under the plagues, the catastrophic destruction of Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar, and the even more catastrophic devastation of Judah and Jerusalem under Titus in AD70 testify to this. The prophets warn constantly of these things.

Consequently, there is a time honoured tradition throughout the history of the Church of pointing to all calamities and calling all men to consider their ways before Almighty God, while there is yet time. Our Lord Himself has done just that. Two calamities hit the headline news while Jesus was ministering in Galilee. One was an act of extreme and callous brutality by the State. The other was a natural calamity, like the Christchurch earthquake. Jesus used both to warn of the judgment to come.

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And He answered and said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate?

"I tell you, no, but, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." Luke 13:1-5
Note the emphatic repetitious device. Note the authoritative, "I tell you . . ."

No doubt there were hearers that day who were outraged at Jesus. But Christians, living daily in the vortex of God's judgment upon them at Golgotha, believe completely in these words and the warning they contain. Of course the Christchurch earthquake is a warning to all in this country, just as every funeral, every death is a warning to the living. "For unto man it is appointed once to die, but after this the Judgment." (Hebrew 9:27)

For those who refuse to heed the warning, continuing to shake the fist of offence and rage, we have only this to say: you can present your case and your arguments to the Almighty on that Day. You will indeed have your day in the assizes of Heaven. But it will be us in the dock, not God. And know one thing further: on that Day there will be no disputes about procedures or evidence. All of you will be made plain: every thought, motive, intention, word, and ethic of our entire lives will be laid as evidence before the Judge. And He has already told us the standard He will be applying: "whoever observes the whole Law (of God), but slips in just one point, has become guilty in every respect." (James 2:10)

Christians have already been judged, at Golgotha. They live constantly in the shadow of God's judgment. But they no longer fear that Day. But no man, woman or child need fear that Day. If any heed the words of the Saviour of the world and repent, turning from Unbelief to Him, and stand in solidarity with Him at Golgotha, and believe that there He took their just punishment in their place, they too will be saved.

Has not God appointed Him the Saviour of the whole world? He Whom God has appointed, approved, and accepted as our Saviour, let not man despise.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

Smart as Paint

Culture and Politics - Politics
Written by Douglas Wilson
Tuesday, February 22, 2011

If the directors of private insurance companies ran their businesses the same way that the state runs its entitlement programs and pension plans, they would every man jack of them be in the slammer. And when I say "the slammer," I mean chokey, the big house, the can, the clink, the bastille, the cooler, and the jailhouse. In sum, they would be up the river.

But what happens to all the whiz kids in government positions who play their assigned role as tax-supported mountebanks? Well, they don't go to prison -- unless they take the public corruption that they are in and try to privatize it in any way. The swag has to be heaped up in a public swag pile, and if one of the pirates helps himself in a manner not consistent with the pirate code, he gets treated like he was a crook or something.
Now when I refer to the public corruption that our elected officials are "in," I don't want to overstate it. I am only saying that they are in it up to chin level and are about to start blowing bubbles.

Here's how this particular corruption works. I have before quoted the sage who observed that democracy is two coyotes and a sheep voting on what to have for lunch. Or raise the numbers -- 280 coyotes and 28 sheep voting on what to have for lunch. But as it turns out, the coyote politicians had been getting above themselves and had been promising their coyote constituency that there were going to be sheep to eat "forever and a day." But, as it turns out, the the number of sheep in this particular meadow is finite, and now what are we going to do?

When the day of reckoning comes -- and when you are looting a place, it always comes -- the consternation can be profound. We cannot quote Lady Thatcher too often at this point. The problem with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people's money.

So all this is obviously provoked by the hubbub in Wisconsin. As we look at this melee, we should mark the distinction between the yowling Democrats, and the grown-up, fiscally-sane Republicans who are trying to make this financial atrocity work. Thoughtful Christians should be able to identify the drunken pirate appoach as problematic. They often have trouble with the relatively sane ones who are trying to avert a full-blown crisis.

But here is a problem with the fiscally-sane Republicans. The problem is not with what they are doing (this is what they have to do). The problem lies with how they are talking about it.

Whenever you face a day of financial reckoning, and you try to avert bankruptcy by raising the retirement age, or by reducing the amount pensioners get, etc. it may be necessary to do (because you ran out of other people's money), but do not call it "keeping your commitments." If a distressed private debtor makes arrangements with his creditor to pay off his debts at a rate of fifty cents on the dollar, this could easily be the responsible thing to do. It could be absolutely the necessary thing to do, and is far to be preferred than just walking away, leaving the creditor hosed. But it must not be confused with full payment of the obligation.

Republicans must make the necessary adjustments so that we can keep as much of our word as we can . . . which is not the same thing as keeping our word. In the meantime, we must learn to ignore the extortioners and pirates who used various means of duress to get us to make the unsustainable promises in the first place.

There are intelligent Democrats who know how to count, and who are nevertheless participants in the current riots. But keep an eye on them . . . they are going to slip off at the right time, just like Long John Silver. And perhaps, as they pass by the voting public, on their way to the longboat that they already have prepared, they will pat us on the head affectionately. "Smart as paint, m'lad."


Racism Dealt a  Blow

And now, a good news story.

Institutionalised racism in the UK had taken a big hit. The "race criteria" has been wiped from adoption rules by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, according to a piece in the NZ Herald.

Here is the money quote:
Dismissing critics who insist ethnicity must be a concern when matching a child to adoptive parents, he said "politically correct attitudes and ridiculous bureaucracy" had left officials too reluctant to authorise interracial adoptions. "As a result children from ethnic minority backgrounds languish in care for longer than other kids and are denied the opportunities they deserve."
It turns out that as a result of racist nonsense, minority ethnic children have to wait on average three years for an adopting family; white children wait on average just under two years. 
Britain's new advice orders social workers to make placing a child with any suitable family their priority.
Right on. A pox on the houses of those who continue to make ethnicity a distinguishing attribute of being human. 

Update on Sayed Musa

Afghan Christian Facing Execution

We blogged recently on Sayed Musa who is facing execution because he converted from Islam to Christ. We update with this piece from The Telegraph where NATO is expressing its concern over Mr Musa's plight.

Here is a further update from Justin Taylor:

Bob Smietana reports in The Nashville Tennessean that (1) Mr. Musa has been moved to a safe prison, that (2) the authorities in Afghan are feeling pressure to release him, and that (3) his family have fled the country.
Denny Burk writes:
Please keep up your prayers for Said Musa. Even if the authorities decide to release him, he will be in a precarious situation. His conversion is now national news in Afghanistan. When/if he is released, he will be exposed to a great many people outside of prison who might try to kill him for his Christian faith. So pray for Said and for a speedy reunion with his family. Pray that he would be a faithful witness for Christ no matter what happens.
Clarification and Reminder: Two things to keep in mind here:
  1. It’s very difficult to get reliable information in a situation like this. I’ll do my best to keep folks updated. There are rumors he is to be executed; other rumors that he is soon to be released. It’s almost impossible to know for sure what might be going on behind the scenes. All we know this far is that this man is imprisoned for his faith, and Scripture gives us good guidance for how to respond when one of our brothers is on trial for his faith.
  2. It is appropriate to appeal to authorities. Paul did it: “If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar” (Acts 25:11). At the same time, let us remember that there is a King of Kings and a Throne of Grace and that because of our Savior and by the Spirit we may approach our prayer-hearing God with confidence, making an appeal for our dear brother. Like the Apostle Paul, Mr. Musa is “ suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But,” as Paul is quick to point out, “the word of God is not bound!” (2 Tim. 2:9). May God be glorified.