Thanksgiving Thoughts

My main reason for blogging is not to develop a business, make political points, or earn money off of book reviews, advertising, or anything else, but to give something back.  I have a gift of sorts, which means that I should do some “pro bono” work for the good of all.

My work is an expression of me, with all of my idiosyncracies, biases, contrarian views, and as my wife would say, “Merk Quirks.”  I love my wife.  We just celebrated our 24th anniversary.  She doesn’t understand much about money and finance, but she supports me in all that I do — as I support her in our efforts in homeschooling our children.  She works as hard as I do; we both work 12-16 hours/day, 6 days per week, and we love it.

What I write here is an expression of who I am, and how I interpret the world.  My experience has shown me that so far I do better than most at anticipating future problems.  That said, I usually can’t get timing or severity right.  But if I make things easier for people to understand, I consider that a victory.

I am healthy, but I don’t know how long I will live.  True for most of us.  While I have the chance, I try to write articles that will have longer validity than most.  I view my role as not telling you what to do, but trying to teach you how to think, so that you will do better.  I don’t want to die without recording what I think are my best thoughts.  I think I have done most of that, but there is more to do before I am done.

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With that, I want to comment briefly on Thanksgiving.  To me, it is more than family around a meal, though I cooked an excellent spread for my family and in-laws.

The next time I visit my in-laws house, I need to get the title of a book that I read there, which purports that the Pilgrims worked exceptionally hard to pay off their debts to the merchant adventurers who funded them.  The Pilgrims were idealists who risked life and limb for religious liberty.  I have no Pilgrim blood in me, but my kids have ~10% of their ancestry there through their Mom.

How hard did the Pilgrims work?  Consider this piece from my friend Caroline Baum, which she publishes annually, with small changes each year.  The Pilgrims, who suffered huge losses in their first year, would not have survived as a colony if they had not privatized agriculture.  Once they did that, they had plenty to eat and to trade for other goods.

Caroline comments, “Their good fortune had little to do with God.”  I would disagree. The Bible commends personal property rights and diligent labor through the eighth commandment.  Obedience to what God commanded brought blessing.

But to take another angle on this, the Pilgrims had quite a debt to pay off, and their agents in London did not negotiate well for them.  It took them ~20 years to pay off the merchant adventurers, who earned a return of ~40%/year off of the idealists who could not do the math, but who did love God.

Considering how well the merchant adventurers did, I would still say the Pilgrims were the victors.  They flourished in their faith, and having more wealth would not have brought them much in the new world.

Bradford, on the other hand, was not as pleased by the end of his life.  In a pattern that would repeat in US history, by the end of his life, Plymouth was almost deserted, because the descendants of the settlers had moved further west, seeking earthly prosperity.  Did they put the ideals of the original Pilgrims first?  No.

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In my own life, I could have earned a lot more money had I sacrificed my family and church.  There are tradeoffs in this life, and often the better things get sacrificed for monetary goals.  But to what end?

As for me, I am grateful for my family, my congregation, my church, my nation, and all the blessings that come from God to support them.  May God bless you, my readers, richly as well.

8 Comments

  • dal233 says:

    I’ve read your piece. You say in conclusion:

    “It does not change my conclusion: Capitalism has moral legitimacy because it causes businessmen to deliver high-quality service to customers, not because it is the best way of channeling the energy of greedy men.”

    This is a false alternative. Capitalism – the social system based on the principles of individual rights – does indeed lead to high quality service, precisely because those individual rights are based on a morality, an ethics, opposite to those characterized by your statement. Capitalism is based on the ethics of egoism and rational self-interest. A system that demands every man pursue his life for his own sake – never sacrificing to others nor demanding sacrifices in return. Capitalism is the social system that embodies the trader principle – where every man trades value for value, nothing more and nothing less.

  • BodyworkeR says:

    I agree with dal233’s definition of captialism, but that’s pure capitalism, not American capitalism, and definitely not an ideal economic system. American capitalism, an admittedly moving target, is constantly moving somewhere between socialism and capitalism, and currently closer to pure capitalism than socialism. Religion and ethics both move American capitalism towards that middle ground where the government is able to give help to the poor and needy, stimulate parts of the economy for nationalistic purposes such as defense and art and education, and otherwise moderate the excesses of the economy.

    Your desire to keep this blog going certainly is not based on capitalism, and thankfully so. Your reasons, as you’ve explained them, certainly make everything else more believable, and useful. And I am thankful that our society has a place for people like you.

  • cold.as.ice says:

    Why is 40% = bad math?

    xx% is where risk and reward balance. With no controls and no hope of recovery with default that is very high risk. What (in the thinking of the time) would you consider a correct rate.

  • 40% is bad math, because they could have stayed in Holland for 0%, keeping the pastor they so loved in the process. Also, the merchant adventurers, if you read the history always found ways to borderline cheat the Pilgrims.

    It’s one thing to be at 40% for a few years, but after paying off at that level reliably for five years, there should be someone willing to buy out the risk for 30% or 20%, because the ability and willingness to repay is more probable than at inception.

  • dal233 says:

    BodyworkeR, you are right that American capitalism today is not, as you call it, “pure” capitalism. We live in a very mixed society.

  • cold.as.ice says:

    Yes they could have remained in Holland. They left for multiple reasons (wanting kids to retain English language and customs, fear of Military conscription, …).

    By the loan out? Today the lender of a 30 yr fixed home loan at 8% may sell it to another lender, but the homeowner sees the same rate. Why do you think a loan sale back then should have brought down the rate. Perhaps no one was willing to refi the loan? Or perhaps it was not even normal practice?

    If you had been the math man for a bank back then, what would you have thought the appropriate rate to be? Consider risk, distance, laws, comps. etc.

    It just is not clear to me one way or the other. But would have been a fun research project for my home schooled kids.

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