Friday, January 25, 2008

Dishonest Scales


"Dishonest scales are an abomination to the LORD, But a just weight is His delight." (Prov. 11:1)

A crooked merchant can use dishonest scales as a way to steal from the customer. If the sign says that a pound of Cajun pastrami sells for $9.99 per pound, you expect to get 16 avoirdupois ounces for ten bucks. But what if the merchant is clever and rigs the scale to read a full pound at only 15.5 ounces? That's not a lot to shave off, but like the urban legend of the computer programmer that rolls additional fractions of cents into his own bank account, when multiplied over thousands of transactions, that's a lot of money stolen. And what's to stop the merchant from lulling people by slowly changing the scales a little at a time, year after year, so that, say in 50 years, your "pound" of meat is really only 8 ounces? If it's done slowly enough, you won't even notice.

It seems that such schemes were around in the days of King Solomon, as Proverbs 11:1 demonstrates. In fact, there are at least two other mentions of "dishonest scales" in the Book of Proverbs.

For this reason, weights and measures are standard. The days are long over from when the tailor sold cloth based on the distance from his nose to his outstretched hand (which would naturally make one avoid "vertically challenged" merchants). No more is the standard cubit the measure of the king's forearm (which changed every time a new sovereign was crowned). No, indeed, today weights and measures are standardized. In fact, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (formerly the National Bureau of Standards) carefully defines units of measure that are the legal standards for commerce in the United States.

Retailers are required to use "honest scales" that are calibrated, checked, and certified by the appropriate government bureaucracies. So, in all likelihood, the pound of Cajun pastrami really does have 16 ounces. The gallon of gasoline is, in all likelihood, really four quarts. The mile on Google Maps is truly the same, whether in Texas or Rhode Island.

But back to the pastrami. The pound is carefully standardized and regulated, but what about the dollar?

Of course, a dollar is a dollar, right? Dollars don't change. Can the "scales" be dishonest when it comes to currency?

From 1790-1913, the United States dollar was constant. It was tied to gold and/or silver. A dollar bought pretty much the same thing for Thomas Jefferson as it did for Teddy Roosevelt. A careful look at inflation rates from 1790-1913 shows some minor fluctuation, but for the most part, a 1913 dollar was the same as an 1850 dollar, and was the same as a 1790 dollar.

Sure, prices went up and down due to supply and demand. An orange in Louisiana was (and still is) cheaper than it will be in Maine. An apple in Washington was (and still is) cheaper than it will be in Mississippi. Coffee was more expensive for some reason in New Orleans in 1862 than it was in New York City. Hmmm, I wonder why? Of course, that market reality led to the inclusion of chicory in the coffee sold in the occupied Crescent City - especially at the Cafe du Monde (established in 1862) - where coffee and chicory is still the drink of choice.

Yet in spite of market forces, the dollar was still the dollar just as the pound was still the pound. The scales were honest, and the monetary unit was likewise fixed and standard. This made investing fair and gave incentive to save. For why should anyone put money in the bank if the value of the dollar were to drop over time?

In the collection of O. Henry tales from the Stories for Young People series, there is an interesting disclaimer. Most of these short stories take place a hundred years ago. In the introduction (page 7) there is a "final note on currency" that reads: "When it comes to matters of money, the reader should remember how much the value of a specific sum has changed over the last hundred years in the United States: a dollar then would be worth over twenty today."

Interesting.

Of course, the pound, the mile, the yard, the foot, the pint, and the degree Fahrenheit, are carefully regulated and kept standard. It would be preposterous to say that back in 1908, the yard was comprised of sixty feet, or that a gallon was made up of eighty quarts. And yet, we accept the degradation and the devaluation of our currency as normal. We can't even compare economic data in our own day and age without saying something like "as measured in 1995 dollars" - since the dollar as a monetary unit is not standard, but is systematically devalued every year.

So, why was there no inflation (devaluation) of the currency until 1913? That's the year the United States created a central bank. The Constitution makes no provision for the Federal government to do any such thing, and the Constitution even specifies that money must be backed by gold and silver. But, of course, the folks that tell us the Constitution is a "living document" will tell us that the dollar simply must be "flexible" (while the same people would never in a thousand years propose a "flexible" foot, pound, or gallon to shrink over the course of time).

Today, the dollar has no definitional standard - unlike the highly regulated gallon or inch. Rather, dollars - freed from any tie to gold or silver - are printed on paper out of nothing. Every year, the government incurs an ever-increasing debt, and constantly prints more money to pay its bills (great gig, huh?), which lowers the relative market value of every dollar in your pocket (or in your money market fund, in your stock portfolio, or even dollars that you have yet to earn).

Uh, what does Scripture say about "dishonest scales" again?

Here is an insightful piece by Pat Buchanan about "paper money" created out of thin air by the central bank (the Federal Reserve Bank - which, by the way, is neither truly Federal, has no reserves, and isn't really a bank) - and what the ramifications are for us today: a debt-heavy nation, a culture of borrowing, a people who refuse to save (and indeed are given disincentive to save by the "dishonest scales" of fiat currency), a demographic reality of retiring baby-boomers and a paucity of younger workers to keep the pyramid scheme of entitlement going.

It's not good.

You can only devalue currency for so long before the chickens come home to roost. I find it utterly amazing that nobody (well, almost nobody) wants to address this issue. Both the Democrats and the Republicans want to keep the scam alive, and even try to convince us that we have more wealth than we really do by playing around with the interest rates at which the money is created out of nothing. Can you just imagine if a government agency systematically lowered the pound by a few tenths of an ounce every year? People would see right through that scam, and would quickly identify who the "winners" and "losers" would be in such a racket. But let the government do it with our so-called dollar, and if you even question it, you're some kind of loony extremist (or at least some kind of geeky right-wing economist).

Look, when I spend $9.99 for a pound of Cajun pastrami, I just want it to really be a pound and really be $9.99. Is that really all that unreasonable? It hardly seems like rocket science. From my reading of Scripture, when the Lord spends ten bucks on lunch meat, He also expects to get His money's worth. The proof text is right there in Prov. 11:1 (which, if it were up to the Federal government, would probably be somewhere back about 1 Samuel after adjusting for inflation).

19 comments:

Timothy said...

There is one candidate for President whose goal it is to end the Federal Reserve debt-money problem. I'm already a supporter of his, but I hadn't thought about his position in Seventh Commandment terms like you do here. Thanks. Now I have another reason to vote for him. :)

Brian P Westgate said...

Ron Paul for President!

chaplain7904 said...

Glad that Father Hollywood writes about these things. For more insightful blogs on economic (at least I think so because it's my blog) go to chaplaintotheworld.blogspot.com

Now for your entry here, Father. If the gov. can screw up the measurement of the money with such facility, why do you trust the government calibrated gas pump?

Ron Paul will never get elected, and if he did he'd be assassinated in a week. And even if he didn't he'd become a dirty politician like the rest. It can't be helped. As policemen must lie (e.g. to suspects and people about to commit suicide and others) as part of their job; so politicians of necessity must be liars and thieves. No man in our day and age, given that kind of power, is able to resist. Period.

Government is a blessing and a curse. My own homespun philosophy on the matter is this: for every blessing gov. gives, it gives an equal curse, and that's when it's working perfectly. When less than perfectly...

Ron Paul will be no hero. You want financial security, buy physical gold and silver in the form of coins and put them in a safety deposit box in a few different banks.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Chaplain:

Whether Ron Paul or Hillary Clinton talks about the Federal Reserve, I don't care. I just wish SOMEBODY would.

And in fact, I don't trust the gas pump. In Lousiana, everything is crooked. We have a former governor sitting in prison right now, we have a sitting congressman (Democrat) being indicted for $90k of illegal cash in the freezer, and another "family values" champion (Republican) who was well-known for visiting the "New Orleans Ladies." Somehow, I don't have a heckuva lot of faith in the gas pumps.

However, the solution isn't more government, but rather to do what I did: move near work. I hardly ever drive at all. So, if I'm being ripped off at the pump, it's relatively rare. That's my way of "sticking it to the man." It's healthier too.

I would be careful about saying "never" and I would be even more careful about claiming that some people will get assassinated if elected. Statements like that can be misconstrued. Besides, "never" was also applied to things like the abolition of apartheid. I carry a pocket watch I bought from a watch company (Molnija) founded by Stalin that is today an international profit-making capitalist business that markets to Americans over the Internet. I'm not a big fan of the word "never."

But I will say this: Americans will get the government they deserve. I hope we deserve better in the future over and against what we have deserved since we allowed the Feds to turn our hard-earned cash into monopoly money in 1913. We have deserved crap, and the politicians of both parties, in my opinion, have largely not disappointed.

In defense of Dr. Paul, he is not a Quixotic outsider who is certain to be corrupted when he gets the whiff of Washington in his nose. Rather, he is already a ten-term Republican congressman. Ten terms! If he wanted to play the game and make lots of money, he would have started a long time ago. He could have been a multi-millionaire many times over. The lobbyists simply know better than to come knocking on his door. Whether or not you or I agree with his philosophy, I do think the man has integrity - which coming from me, such an admission is almost a miracle. [I once worked for a sheriff in Ohio who hated the fact that he had to run for office - he once quipped: "The only thing lower than a politician is a child-molester." Somehow, I think Ron Paul might agree (there is the famous picture of the sign on his desk saying "Thou shalt not steal - the government hates the competition."]

Whoever ultimately wins isn't going to matter if we allow the Federal government to continue to change the value of our dollars on a whim. Heck, we don't even learn about this in school! I'll bet not one American in 100 knows where dollars come from (government debt) or realizes that it is the only standard of weights and measures that is on a decreasing sliding scale.

But I do think your advice about buying real gold instead of speculative paper is solid.

chaplain7904 said...

Father H., thanks for the reply. I like Ron Paul's monetary ideas. I don't know much more about him.

I don't think we, the people, can stop the Fed from doing what it's doing. Remember, what they're doing (robbing) is their business. Everyone has a profession. Drug boys, politicians, pastors, policemen... and we all protect it. Some people's business is nothing more than to serve as a bad example, to frighten us away from such a life as theirs.

I like your form of protest. You also the have advantage in the Big Easy that you can live without much need for electricity or gas because it's warm down there. We don't have that luxury here in the cold north.

You're right, too. Not one in a hundred knows what our discussion is about. Until I was 55 years old, neither did I. I just took up this study 2 years ago.

Anyway, I enjoy your writing. You're a pretty smart guy and a good thinker.

By the way, did you think my reference to RP getting assassinated could be taken as a threat from me? If so, I think that's a bit over the top.

Father Hollywood said...

Chaplain:

*I* wouldn't interpret it as a threat, but you just never know what kind of conclusions others may draw. It's becoming a pretty crazy world out there. Thanks for writing!

Joanne said...

Howdy Brer Father,
I read Forbes Mag cover to cover, every issue and have for 20 years now. Stever Forbes has championed a return to the gold standard in almost every issue. He states his argument in almost the same words you do above. He mentions Bretton Woods a great deal as well, a monetary arrangement we dropped after WWII, though I'm a tad foggy on that just now. So, you're not as lonely on the monetary front as you think. Sound currency is a no brainer. Joanne

chaplain7904 said...

You are quite the star making Lew Rockwell. Did he find you, or did you submit it to him?

chaplain7904 said...

Lew Rockwell is the big time.

Trez said...

Thanks! Thanks! Thanks! I can't say it enough. Finally!! A biblical indictment of this abomination called Federal Reserve notes. No one talks about it, preaches about it, or teaches about it. All you hear today is about tithing, seed faith giving, and seeding from your needing, etc.. It is past time, well past time for pastors to sound the alarm about trusting this economy. Having read "The Creature from Jekyll Island" I have had my eyes opened. This whole economy is a house of cards and why does so many preachers want you giving something that really isn't worth anything. I hear so much about honoring God with the "first fruits" but how can God be honored with something He considers an abomination??

chaplain7904 said...

Trez, there's no connection between the folly of the government and Christian theology.

Granted, God condemns dishones scales, and those who commit such sins will be judged by Him.

Though Fr. H is using sound biblical morality, I don't thing he's writing as a theologian here, but rather as a citizen.

It's not the church's job to praise or condemn the Federal Reserve. Rather to announce God' amnesty for sinners in Christ, and to administer the Sacraments which do the same.

It is refreshing to read this piece, though.

Our churches would do well to take our endowment funds and savings accounts out of dollar (or paper) denominated assets, and put them in gold for the time being.

Father Hollywood said...

Hi Joanne:

Thanks for the reminder about Steve Forbes. As I recall, he was treated like a lunatic for championing hard currency.

Some things never change!

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Chaplain:

I just submitted it, and they ran it. Maybe it was a slow day. I had another article on LRC a while back - and that one got me into some trouble with some of my friends at the seminary. So far, this one doesn't seem to be too controversial.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Trey and Chaplain:

Yes, indeed, "Jekyll Island" was an eye-opening book.

I wouldn't preach about the federal reserve from the pulpit - as my parishioners have other sins that need to be addressed. However, I do think this is a valid topic for the theologian. We are indeed called upon to proclaim law and gospel, to defend what is true and right and to denounce that which is wrong.

I guess I see both sides of your discussion, and I do think pastors need to speak out on such topics, though the pulpit is not always the best forum. Scripture indeed denounces dishonest scales (which is the seventh commandment) just as it denounces abortion (the fifth commandment). We need to think of the best forum in which to proclaim God's Word, and then do it.

Thanks to both of you for writing!

Father Hollywood said...

Oops, I misspelled "Trez." Mea culpa (I'm tired, it's been a long day!).

Trez said...

I partially agree with you chaplain. I am just thoroughly pleased that someone theologically trained understands the nature of this "economy" and how dishonest it is.
I do think that the church should alert congregations to the deception of our current monetary system. I think it is all a part of being a good steward with a clear understanding of this debt based system.
Here is something to ponder though. A book called "Miracle on Main Street" by the late Tupper Saussey mentions that "No State shall accept any thing other than gold and silver for the payment of debts". This isn't verbatim here but it is in one of the Articles. Let me know what you think.

chaplain7904 said...

Trez, The problem is that if churches start preaching econmic theory and/or politics it estranges its members.

Though you and I can't believe it, there are Keynesians and others with warped economic views in our congregations. They are Christians. Yet they stupidly and/or ignorantly (in my opinion) champion such things as government spending to end a recession, rate cuts, the Federal Rerserve etc.

We cannot even imply that to be a Christian one must hold to this politic, or that economic theory. That's why we can't warn our congregations. Besides, if I gave them my financial advice and it went wrong, look out.

These are discussions that can be had in venues other than the church.

In fact the blogosphere is a perfect place for clergymen to bring Biblical morality to bear on these things.

I laud Fr. H for knowing what he knows and writing about it so eloquently. I'll bet not 1 in 100 people know these things. I'm 57 and didn't know a stock from a bond until about two years ago. Now I call myself an amatuer economist. I've gotten, on my own, what I'd consider a full year's college credit in economics.

I feel very badly for all the people who are going to lose big financially because the won't or can't hear what's going on, and how to fix it. I'm talking about church members, brother pastors, my own brothers and sisters.

I fear the fix will be forced upon us at great cost!

I could be all wrong and die in poverty and ignominy. But I think I'm making very prudent plans at this time by investing in gold and silver.

I feel like Cassandra who had the gift of prohecy, and the curse than no one would believe her.

So I don't say anything to anyone unless they ask me. Then I let them know it all.

Anyway, sorry for going on and on. Thanks for your comments.

How will all this resolve in your opinion?

Trez said...

Good points chaplain, I believe what you write is a sound and reasoned approach. I don't mean to imply that holding to any other economic theory means one is lost. I tend to look at it as a common sense issue. We know that fire is hot so don't put your hand in it while roasting a marshmallow. However, you are correct about knowing when and where to discuss economics especially if you are leading a congregation. I am learning the financial lingo myself and like you I still don't quite understand bonds. If a bond is what I think it is then why can't I issue some for my own debt. :-)
I haven't purchase any silver or gold yet but I have invested in a gold fund. I get confused about what to buy. There are numismatics(sp?), collectible, and bullion coins, bars, ingots.
Anyway, you asked how do I think this will all resolve and honestly, I think that this country's "dollar" will be replaced with a euro type currency representing the North American Union of Canada, US, and Mexico. Before that, there will be more band-aid foreign sovereign fund bail-outs, write downs, foreclosures, and police-state governance.

chaplain7904 said...

Actually Trez, you could issue your own bonds. I don't know if anyone would buy them though. In the early 70's when my brother and I opened a small business we borrowed $100 from each of 7 family members and promised to pay back $110 at the end of one year. It worked.

As for how to buy gold or silver the best is gold coins such as American Eagles, Canadian Mapleleafs. For silver, buy American Silver Eagles or junk silver. Or contact me at christophercoins@gmail.com for more info. (Sorry for turning yoru blog into the marketplace Fr. H.)