Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Gathering Economic Storm (Pt. II)

This is Part II of my brother Bill's analysis of the economic peril Washington and Wall Street have placed us in. Part I was posted yesterday:
The best way to protect one’s self from the scenario we described in yesterday's post was suggested a decade ago. I'm not encouraging you to run out and buy a truckload of food that'll probably spoil before you ever get the chance to eat it all (although prudence dictates one should have three to four weeks worth of food and drinking water on hand for any unexpected crisis event).

I do suggest, though, that you join a shopping club like BJ’s or Costco where you can buy in bulk and get great value, specifically on non-perishable consumer goods. It’s a 2-fer. You save on your purchases and you avoid spending exorbitant amounts later when the inflation tsunami comes ashore. By this time next year, or the year after, the cost of the products mentioned below could very well have doubled or tripled (not a bad return on one’s investment ... that’s if some of these products are even available at all). Further, and importantly, none of these items will spoil, they need no special storage considerations, and you will always be able to use them. In other words, it’s a zero-risk investment!

The strategy is simple: Acquire your inventory and store it away. Don't use it when you've run out of an item, rather continue to purchase what you need until you determine the item in question has become too expensive. That’s the time to begin dipping into your inventory. How much and which items you should acquire are personal decisions that only you can make, but I would suggest that any supply lasting less than three to six months is probably not worth your effort.

Consider toothpaste for example. If an individual consumes a tube of toothpaste per month, then twelve tubes of toothpaste would last for a year. Given the state of the US fiscal dilemma, one year's worth of inventory is probably a conservative assessment. You're going to use all of these items anyway so why not buy them now? Here are some suggestions.

Laundry items (detergent, fabric softener, bleach, etc.)

Bathroom necessities (toothpaste and brushes, floss, soap, shampoo, deodorant, toilet paper, swabs, air freshener, kleenex, sanitary napkins, etc.)

Over the counter first-aid and meds (aspirin, antibiotic ointment, isopropyl alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, band aids, bandages, etc.)

General household cleaners (mildew remover, lysol, pine sol, windex, etc.)

Kitchen necessities (dish/dishwasher soap, paper towels, aluminum foil, glad wrap, trash bags, sandwich baggies, sponges/wipes)

Miscellaneous (salt, sugar, coffee, light bulbs, spices and seasonings (may have an expiration date), bottled water, flashlights, batteries, motor oil, etc.)
Bill's advice will perhaps have little resonance with the grasshoppers among us, but the ants out there will undoubtedly see the wisdom of it.

We're tempted to think, and hope, that an economic depression can't happen here, but that's what folks thought in the 1920s. The depression that began in the late 20s lasted for over a decade and it took a world war to get us out of it.

Once our creditors are convinced that our deficit is so high we'll never be able to repay our loans our credit will dry up. When that happens we'll have no money to finance our enormous spending on social programs like medicare, medicaid and social security, nor money to spend on our military, nor on infrastructure. The government will have to either severely cut spending, raise taxes to confiscatory levels, or print more money, all of which will throw millions out of work, and the last two of which will only exacerbate the problem.

The only way to avoid this future is to cut our deficit now which means cutting the amount of money the government spends on entitlements. Yet consider how hard it was just to inveigle a $385 million cut from the Democrats two weeks ago, and we need to start today to cut trillions in order to avoid the calamity that awaits us if we delay.

Inexplicably there's no appetite in the White House to cut entitlements, only to raise taxes, which will not raise nearly enough money to stave off the grim reaper, and will probably actually produce more joblessness and less revenue in the long run.

If you think this is all Chicken Little stuff ask yourself, as gasoline heads for $6.00 a gallon this summer, what effect the price of gas will have on the price of goods, services, and family spending. If the former become more expensive and the latter is sharply curtailed what effect will this have on unemployment?

Yet the administration refuses to make it easier for oil companies to drill into our own reserves, which would certainly keep oil prices down in the mid-term. But that's a topic for another post.

The Appeal of ID for Agnostics

David Klinghoffer writes about the growing appeal intelligent design holds for agnostics and other seekers of a meaning to human existence. It shouldn't be surprising that agnostics would be drawn to ID, but perhaps it is.

After citing a couple of examples of this trend Klinghoffer argues, correctly, that ID is not inherently religious because it doesn't make any claims about who the designer is or how or when the designer did its work.

He then writes:
If ID were religious in nature, then with what theology or with what faith exactly is it congruent? ID is as much a religious idea as is the cosmology of the Big Bang. Sure, it's more readily reconciled with Judaism or Christianity than you can say of Darwinism or materialism, but that's something different. It also has as much to offer to the unbeliever or the unorthodox searcher as to the confirmed traditional believer. It might even have more.
He says this because many people in the contemporary world are experiencing what might be called an existential crisis. They're looking for something beyond themselves to fill the void in their empty lives. Materialism has been tried and found to be utterly inadequate:
It's far from the case that only orthodox religionists have perceived what Alfred Russel Wallace, evolutionary theory's co-founder, called in 1889 the "crushing mental burden" that materialism imposes on modern man. He continued:

"As contrasted with this hopeless and soul-deadening belief, we, who accept the existence of a spiritual world, can look upon the universe as a grand consistent whole adapted in all its parts to the development of spiritual being capable of indefinite life and perfectibility."

Another British socialist and freethinker of a slightly later generation, George Bernard Shaw, recognized what Darwinism boils down to. Shaw, who held no particular religious beliefs and left instructions at his death that no one should try to erect a cross over his grave, wrote in 1921:

"[Darwinism] seems simple, because you do not at first realize all that it involves. But when its whole significance dawns on you, your heart sinks into a heap of sand within you. There is a hideous fatalism about it, a ghastly and damnable reduction of beauty and intelligence, of strength and purpose, of honor and aspiration."

Yes, the heart sinks. That easily could have been written not in 1921 but today. Even in troubled economic times, we are a vastly wealthy society -- yet one plagued by a hideous, gnawing, wasting sense of unease and dissatisfaction.
Modern man is in despair because he realizes that a world that has been purged of the transcendent is spiritually sterile, purposeless, and pointless:
Every real solution to this problem of despair assumes a reality beyond our mundane, one-dimensional and material one. How could it not? We are in despair, or fear falling into it -- whether we're religious or otherwise -- over the limitations of our own lives.

The ultimate limit is imposed by death, which we fear as no generation in memory seems to have done despite the overwhelming safety of our existence. In the meantime, while we are still alive, the lack of a sense of ultimate purpose and meaning that goes with the culture of materialism feeds the anxiety that underlies so much of that culture.

Materialism corrodes the confidence we might otherwise have that any search for meaning that we undertake is not necessarily in vain. Intelligent design offers the hope, by the refutation of materialist science, that "something is out there," whatever it might be, capable of granting genuine purpose to our existence.
If there is a designer of some sort "out there" it must be highly intelligent, very powerful, personal, and sufficiently concerned with us to have designed us to be the kind of beings who can experience love and a yearning for transcendence.

In other words, if there's a designer it would seem that it must be the very sort of being that could fill the emptiness in the vacant hearts of modern men. No wonder then that ID appeals to those who are still searching for something to make their lives meaningful.