No Intelligent Designer needed for the economy

| November 26, 2006 | 9 Replies

You’ll never find anyone who writes more clearly about mathematics than John Paulos.  Exhibit A is Innumeracy:  Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences (1990). 

Paulos doesn’t limit his inquiries and writings to pure mathematics, however.  Mathematics permeates numerous social issues, and Paulos is happy to jump into the fray whereever that is the case.  In this article, he points out how odd it is:  

that some of the most ardent opponents of Darwinian evolution – for example, many fundamentalist Christians – are among the most ardent supporters of the free market.

I’ve certainly seen fundamentalists repeatedly and proudly announced that all aspects of an economy “just happen,” without an omniscient and omnipotent Planner.  I’ve heard this so often, that I’ve sardonically termed the free market as “The Fourth Person in God.”  Paulos has heard these claims too:

[Those who reject biological evolution] would reject the idea that there is or should be central planning in the economy. They would point out that simple economic exchanges which are beneficial to people become entrenched and then gradually modified as they become part of larger systems of exchange, while those that are not beneficial die out. Yet some of these same people refuse to believe natural selection and “blind processes” can lead to biological order arising spontaneously.

Paulos thus raises the question of why those who reject evolution don’t require an “all-powerful, detail-obsessed economic law-giver” to make certain that the vast and complex economies of cities and nations continue to run with the apparent precision with which they appear to run. 

Good question.

Check out the many other offerings on the web site of John Paulos. 

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Category: Economy, Psychology Cognition, Religion, Science, Statistics, Web Site

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (9)

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  1. It takes an incredible amount of faith in man to believe that "the vast and complex economies of cities and nations continue to run with the apparent precision with which they appear to run" because it is all based upon appearances as you cleverly noted with redundancy. We are in the midst of an economic meltdown for the very reason that markets and economies have been manipulated for decades by central planners, who actually believe they have the insight or prerogative to counterfeit currency and steal from the producers, and are quickly reaching the point where the dead horse can no longer be propped up.

    The economic principles in the scriptures which you have conveniently overlooked are too simple for smart people. I suppose the first one would be "thou {you} shall not steal". The Federal Reserve does this with impunity every time they loan some "money" into existence. Used to be they at least had to pay the Treasury a few cents per note to have them print it up and then spend or loan it into existance. Now they simply move a few electrons from one account to another and start collecting compounding interest on it pretendin they have actually done some one a favour by loaning us our own money. Have you ever heard of the "Plunge Protection Team"?

    Which of course brings up the issue of collecting interest {usury} at all. Making such outrageous assumptions that the scriptures say nothing about economics while assuming central planning is some kinda miracle shows an incredible ignorance of history, both biblical and secular.

    http://www.goldismoney.info/forums/showthread.php?t=8618...

    "The record shows that when the managers of a central bank in any particular country are looking around for ways and means to accumulate more wealth, they are often tempted by two things which are inherently evil and totally destructive to the foundation of civilized countries. One is to encourage an involvement in war so the nation will be forced to borrow heavily. Bonds (which are really government IOUs paying substantial interest) are considered to be a most valuable form of collateral assets in a central bank.

    The other temptation is to promote a cycle of "boom and bust" economics. This simply consists of starting a boom with generous loans at low interest and after a few years suddenly raising the interest rates, calling in loans, and bankrupting homeowners, industries, farmers, and millions of people who had trusted the bank to continue its policies.

    Some economists, including Karl Marx, have tried to maintain that these boom-and-bust cycles are an inescapable characteristic of a free-market economy. The truth of the matter is that these so-called boom-and-bust cycles are primarily a phenomenon of manipulated economics, engineered by men who find themselves in an extremely powerful position to control money and credit but seem to *lack the moral integrity* to resist the opportunity of fleecing the common people who have genuinely trusted them.

    We mention these problems at the beginning of our discussion because any study of central banking will disclose the highly visible profile of these two pernicious problems with which central banking has been continually involved. Wealthy money managers seem to have a strong proclivity toward both warmongering and the manipulation of the economy in cycles of boom and bust. Having personally passed through several of these wars and cycles of boom and bust, this writer has been constantly on the lookout for any trends which might signify a repeat performance of this abusive use of power."

  2. Jason Rayl says:

    Larry,

    All economies are manipulated. That is an historical fact. All that anyone ever argues over is who is doing the manipulating. In some instances it's a government. In some, it's someone else's government. So-called "free market" economies are manipulated by those who consider themselves the arbiters of freedom and who have the most money at any given moment.

    Boom and bust is a normal economic cycle–period. Because the only principle that seems universal in sound economies is the movement of product and/or currency. The Depression was not a condition wherein there was no money, but rather a condition in which the normal channels for its smooth flow were utterly wrecked.

    Money itself is a fiction, though. Nothing has intrinsic absolute value except labor, and even then its relative worth is endlessly debated and adjusted.

  3. Dan Klarmann says:

    Gold is not money. It is a pretty rock. Back before urbanization, it had no commercial value. It was too soft to be a tool, and had no other use. Once hierarchies were established with wealth funneled to a few, those few became enamored of this non-tarnishing, soft, shiny material as a status symbol. Once the mega-rich were collecting it, and trading it, it began to have universal value.

    As Jason mentioned, money is a fiction. It is an abstract concept allowing some medium of exchange to be considered as equal to an amount of product or power. Gold has been a common and convenient marker for exchange of these units of power (as energy, political, labor, etc) and product (like gold, amaranth, uranium, hog bellies, iPods, etc) since the middle-Mesopotamian civilization.

    Anyone with some control-theory can see how the wealth (potentials) and channels of exchange (resistance, capacitance, inductance) would necessarily create an inherently unstable system with feedback if it is to work at all. Any sudden change causes oscillations. That's why our local Fed changes interest rates by 0.0025 at a time even when the formulas show the need for a bigger change.

  4. "Gold has been a common and convenient marker for exchange of these units of power" yet you say, "Gold is not money". You can't have it both ways. Gold and silver are the best forms of money {medium of exchange, store of value} ever used. And banksters hate them simply because they cannot be created out of thin air. Go and try to dig up some gold or silver, you will find it takes quite an investment in labor and materials which hold their value over eons unlike paper currencies which always end up as wallpaper {or worse}. Central planning is idolatry.

  5. Jason Rayl says:

    Point being, that the decision to assign value to the metal was pretty much arbitrary. Other mediums of exchange around the globe vary from gold to conch shells to jade. It is the IDEA of using it as medium of exchange that makes it money, it is not "money" in any innate, intrinsic sense. Which is why we can use paper today (or elecrrons) and still conduct business–because it's the IDEA that matters, not the substance.

    Of course it's related to labor–and production–but the association is pretty much arbitrary.

  6. Dan Klarmann says:

    As with diamonds or non-precious coins, the value of gold or silver is what some influential group says it is. There is a very loose relationship between the value of these items and what it costs to obtain or create them. In the last decade, many gold mines closed because the dollar value of gold was dropping below the relatively constant cost to extract it. Diamond mines are going strong because cost of getting them still is orders below the price.

    Gold is a standard because it has always been recognized as a basic natural element (from the alchemists noblest metal to element 79) that is easy to proof and cannot be counterfeited or (efficiently) manufactured.

    Even better is the public perception of value. A mass-produced, machine stamped pot-metal charm with a metal value of about 1/10 cent sells for $2.00, whereas the same process and packaging stamping it out of 10k gold worth 100 cents sells for $50. You get an extra $1 more of metal for $48 more money.

    Value is a social perception. There is no absolute scale of value, and therefore no material can be said to have an absolute intrinsic value.

  7. And because of these things gold and silver have always been better forms of money. A "dollar" was originally 1/20th ounce of gold. Now it is 1/630th. It is not the value of the gold that changed, it is the value of the "dollar". It is moving towards it real value which is zero. The reason the price of gold and silver is manipulated is because to fail to do so will quickly show the real value of Federal Reserve Notes. These forms of money are in competition, and the quality {or lack} will soon be exposed.

    The sham of a controlled economy and the faith of the people put in the mattoids running the system is about to go away. "Babylon is fallen, is fallen".

  8. Dan Klarmann says:

    Gold is not a particularly constant currency. Don't compare gold to variable dollars, but rather to loaves of bread, or movie tickets, or some other universal commodity that has a use. In some places and times, an ounce of gold would buy a shovel blade. In another, an ounce would get you a crate of selected precision tools plus shipping.

    The value of a thing is "what the thing will bring." This is one of those wonderfully simple rules that necessarily spawn very complex systems. Much like the 4 nucleotides that group by 3's to describe only 20 amino acids, that combine to make up all the proteins in every living thing.

  9. Dan, I agree with you. The point is gold and silver have held their buying power over eons better than anything else men have devised. Long before they said. "Show me the money" they were saying "Show me the color of your money".

    My rule of thumb is to consider the one ounce postage stamp in 1964, just before they took the solver out of our coins. It was 4 cents. You could buy 2 and a half one ounce posatge stamps for a silver dime. Now the one ounce postage stamp is 39 cents. That 1964 silver dime will still buy about 2 and a half one ounce postage stamps. A dollar bill would buy 25 in 1964, the same dollar bill now will buy about 2 and a half. The dollar has lost 90% of it's value in 42 years, while a silver dime has held it's own. You can do the same exercise with gold, and granted if you aren't aware of the bankster manipulation you can get hurt, short term.

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