Sunday, September 30, 2012

They Took Our Jobs!

They took our joooobs!
Tom Woods's remarks in a recent Mises Institute lecture brought to my mind the gaggle of grousing South Park denizens who, whenever anything threatens their income, complain that, "They took our jobs!" Regardless of the causes and their own actions, these citizens ascribe all guilt to some thieving tormentor who has robbed them of their God-given livelihood.

Never mind whether society actually needs their wares or crafts, whether they could have differently saved or invested, if they could have changed careers or locations, and so forth, these people cry, "They took our jobs!" The obvious implication is that someone must make up for their loss, and hence Tom Woods's perspicacious comments reminded me of their demands.

It is terrible to see your expectations and plans fall out beneath you, but that's only because your expectations and plans were at odds with everybody else's expectations and plans, and a market correction is precisely that, it is the realization of precisely this problem: that there has been this lack of coordination. So why should everyone else have to suffer to pay for the stimulus to make some people whole. Why would that be socially desirable for everyone? A market correction is the way individuals say through their buying and abstention from buying that the previous array of prices was too high and we want to see them lower. Who is the government or the federal reserve to second guess that?

And the people whose lost in the bust are going to be in the forefront, demanding stimulus to re-inflate a tire with a large hole it, but other individuals have interests too, and those interests do not necessarily lie in ensuring that some arbitrary asset once again reaches some arbitrary price level. [1]
What strikes me most about Woods's words is the word arbitrary. No good has a fixed value but rather, as Woods has said in tidy summary of the Austrian science of human action known as praxeology, "The very act of choice... implies cost." [2] So why should any given good have its price inflated higher than what customers will freely spend for it, or reduced to lower than what is worth to its owner? Why would any good be deemed special? Why would any group of workers buying or producing that good be deemed special? Besides, the value of the good is never fixed for either the producer or the consumer.

For the producer, the price might be lower when he has streamlined production or  it might rise with rising costs of materials or from the pressure of a wily competitor. For the consumer, his resources, needs, and wants can vary from time to time, thus his willingness to pay a given cost can vary. Customers and producers adjust to these fluctuating variables, supply and demand, in a free marketplace, buying and selling goods if and only if they think the exchange gives them what they want at that time.

If the iPad costs $500, some people will pay for one and some won't. If Apple profits from selling the device at $500, then that means the iPad is worth $500 to enough people with $500. Both parties win.  If Apple sells too few to profit, they must either charge more for it, or construct it with fewer resources so they can charge less and thus sell more of them. Where does government or Federal Reserve or any third party get the authority (legal or moral) or knowledge to tell Apple how much it costs to make an iPad (by way of telling them how many people to employ and/or how much to pay them or how many they can sell) or how much it should profit from the sale, or the consumer what the subjective value of the gizmo is to him?

Apple is but one example, but why should any industry, that is, the employees and entrepreneurs of any industry, be prioritized? Why ought the price of steel remain high to benefit steelworkers when efficiencies might make it cheaper to the benefit of people who purchase steel? In any of the following examples, why is one party more important than the other? How could any of the following statements be justified?
  • The price of automobiles must be kept high by means of bailouts enabling the company to employ more costly workers, to protect auto workers at the expense of those who buy automobiles. 
  • The price of grain must be kept high through subsidies, to protect farmers at the expense of those who buy food. 
  • The price of American goods must all be kept high by protective trade tariffs, to protect Americans who sell goods at the expense of Americans who buy goods. 
  • The price of houses must be kept high through stimuli to protect home owners, real estate salesmen, and construction workers, at the expense of those who want to buy houses or to rent. 
  • Companies must be bailed out to protect shareholders, at the expense of those who do not speculate with their savings. 
  • Why should spending be encouraged through low interest rates, at the expense of those who save?
To justify any such assertion is not only to plan the economy, but society.

[2] Woods, Thomas E. Jr. The Church and the Market. Lexington Books. 2005.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


[Periander] sent an agent to Thrasybulus [the tyrant of Miletus] to ask what was the safest kind of government for him to establish, which would allow him to manage the state best. Thrasybulus took the man sent by Periander out of the city and into a field  where there were crops growing. As he walked through the gain, he kept questioning the messenger and getting him to repeat over and over again what he had come from Corinth to ask. Meanwhile, every time he saw an ear of grain standing higher than the rest, he broke it off and threw it away, and he went on doing this until he had destroyed the choicest, tallest stems in the crop. After this walk across the field, Thrasybulus sent Periander's man back home, without having offered him any advice. – Herodotus. Histories, V.

"It is time that equality bore its scythe above all heads. It is time to horrify all the conspirators." –Maximilien de Robespierre

Leveling is the barbarian’s substitute for order. –Nicolás Gómez Dávila

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Just Suppose. . .

You bought the tickets, cleared your work schedule, hired the babysitter, and finally you and the madamina head to the theater. Phantom. Smoke, mirrors, chandeliers. Oh boy! Unfortunately when you arrive, the theater has been "renovated." Now the seats encircle the stage and you can see past the it to the people across. They yawn, chew gum, shift in their seats, but you can live with it. It's Phantom, after all.

So the curtain goes up and you await the overture, only to hear the march from Raiders of the Lost Ark. There's nothing wrong with the Raiders theme, but it's in the wrong key, the wrong genre, the wrong meter, and thematically it doesn't relate. Sure it is rousing like an overture, but it's completely out of place. The "overture" ends and you, avid connoisseur of the theatrical arts, persevere.

So the chorus comes out dancing and twirling as all seems well. Then the prima donna steps out and strides to center stage. Her whole body is poised to let forth a torrent of bravura virtuosity and at last she opens her mouth. . . and tells you the piece you are about to hear is in D major, common time, and at allegro tempo. "It can be found on page 75 of your score," she adds. Now you're pretty ticked. Is this a rehearsal? You glance at your wife in disbelief, but what are you to do? Walk out? Of course not, so you sit and nod off as the show goes on.

Eventually the Phantom himself stalks onstage, his ivory mask glinting under the theater lights. Your spouse nudges you awake. The titular seducer coos:
Night time sharpens, heightens each sensation
Darkness stirs and lessens consternation
Silently the senses walk out on their defenses
Slowly, softly night uncurls its splendor
Touch it, sense it, tremulous as ever.
"He changed the words. Why did he change the words?" You think to yourself. "They're not bad words, but they are the wrong words. I don't get it." Then the Phantom looks up and starts singing at the audience instead of at the leading lady. What's going on?

You're so focused on the oddities that the song is over before you realize it. The two bickering theater owners have entered for their scene, but something is off with them too. At first you can't place it. They're speaking and their words make a certain sense, but something is missing. There's no direction to what they're saying, they're ad libbing. And badly, at that. Eventually they're just rambling. At this point you're hoping the chandelier will fall on you and end this madness. Instead, the choir enters (late and off key, because they didn't rehearse) and starts singing the finale to Les Miserables.

Just suppose any Broadway performance went so awry: it would make the newspapers. Yet similar liturgical follies occur weekly, daily even, at churches everywhere and parishioners don't kick up much of a storm. Explanations of the phenomenon abound: indifference, philistinism, Sandinistas. It is possible, however, some virtue lies at or near the heart of this curiosity.

On the one hand, art is an aesthetic experience. If the execution fails, the purpose fades. The purpose of the liturgy on the other hand, is not primarily aesthetic. Its execution may be poor, but excepting outright abuses, its purpose endures, hence people go to church despite the exceedingly poor art of celebration. In this respect, the faithful permit the aesthetic degradation because there is virtually nothing the priest can do which will turn these parishioners away. Why sing Palestrina when the status quo will do? Why prepare a homily when off the cuff remarks will suffice?

The faithful who would express the liturgy through the transcendent power of art have a few fates. Some are democratically stifled, others learn to stifle themselves. Some will sit and seethe, others will leave for greener pastors. A handful of crusaders may take up arms against their priests, organists, and music directors, making a lot of enemies in the progress. What seems to me the most productive path is likewise the most challenging. A few thoughts.

First, people will be persuaded by different arguments. Some will find liturgical laws compelling, others will find them onerous. Some will be roused by paeans to beauty, others will find them highfalutin. Choose the appropriate argument and remember you need not persuade someone on all accounts.

Second, do as much as you can. Make phone calls, make appointments, make reservations, make copies. This will relieve other people of the responsibility, which many people welcome, and it will in many cases give you the liberty to make decisions. That said, don't angle for more authority or other peoples' jobs. Just do as much as you can as well as you can, if you carry out those tasks well, others will come.

Third, do everything as well as possible. Neglect no detail, aim for perfection. Some people will notice right away, others will notice when you aren't the one arranging matters.

Fourth, get creative. If you don't want guitars at mass, then organize some other event at which those individuals can perform. If rehearsals for that new event should happen to coincide with rehearsals for mass or mass itself. . . Find a way to keep them involved, but not crooning through the liturgy.

Fifth, be the alternative. Always have your plans ready to go at a moment's notice. When there's a blip in the status quo or when nothing else is ready, you'll be ready to jump into action, pulling someone's fanny out of the fire while giving people a taste of your vision.

Sixth, think big and small. It's all very well and good to aim for an EF or Latin NO, or a piece of polyphony at mass, but think small too. Sometimes a grand gesture is needed, sometimes a subtle one. Aiming to add or remove one piece of music, better train the altar servers, or improve the website might be the falling of stones which starts the avalanche. The better you can make any one part, the worse the shoddy elements around it will look and the more others will be amenable to tweaking them.

Seventh, thank people. Everyone, preferably. Bring them into the game. If they don't do anything, ask them a question and then thank them "for their guidance." Also, if you mention a group or committee, then you better know the names of the people in it.

This is no small task, but what more could be at stake?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Haydn: Three Choral Fugues

The choral fugue has long been the crown with which composers consummate their greatest works.  From the leaping dances of Bach's B minor Mass to the flashing fugatos of Handel's Messiah, these choral coronations become the most memorable moments of the works. Such is in part due to their functions within the pieces as celebratory climaxes, but we need look only as far as Theodora for a finale grand and sombre.

Bach and Handel have in these pieces, with their expressive harmonies and vigorous rhythms which threaten to break free from all restraints, the perfection of their geniuses. For this good reason the music is much and well commented upon. Yet Haydn's genius too saw in the choral fugue's counterpoint not just the frame for a grand finale but the potential for depicting and amplifying an idea. Haydn would find for the nature of the fugue, with its many contrapuntal variations, ideas which themselves would flourish in such development. In his oratorio The Creation he found some ideal subjects and set to work.

I. The first of the three great choruses of the oratorio concludes the Third Day of Creation.
Stimmt an die Saiten, ergreift die Leier!
Lasst euren Lobgesang erschallen!
Frohlocket dem Herrn, dem mächtigen Gott!
Denn er hat Himmel und Erde
bekleidet in herrlicher Pracht.
Haydn's choral fugue for, "Denn er hat Himmel und Erde / bekleidet in herrlicher Pracht," is not simply a ride over thrilling rhythms, but the many entrances are appropriate to the logic of the text: the draping of magnificent garments. With each entrance we feel the hand of the Maker twirling pure splendor around his creation.

II. The choral finale to the Fourth Day is well-known to English speakers as "The Heavens Are Telling" and it fares translation better than other movements. By what better way to display the myriad wonders of creation than by counterpoint's manifold arts of inversion, diminution, augmentation. . .
Die Himmel erzählen
die Ehre Gottes
und seiner Hände Werk
zeigt an das Firmament.

III. Effective though it is, Haydn's conclusion does not seem to live up to the previous movements, at least with respect to putting the counterpoint to inventive pictorial use. Perhaps the concept of praise doesn't admit to much development or lend itself to any contrapuntal expression other than, "every which way, forever," perhaps it's simply a perfect, if obvious, fit. 
Des Herren Ruhm,
er bleibt in Ewigkeit.