So Now We Are Civilized

Maori troops in North Africa, July 1941 (Public Domain)

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.

I took the title for this post from a story that Elder Robert L. Simpson recounted in his talk, Do It:

As Sister Simpson and I walked along lower Queen Street in Auckland, New Zealand, the other day, we came to a particular place not far from the wharf. There we paused for a few moments as I related to her the incident that took place at that very spot during my first mission.

I could still see in my mind’s eye a very old Maori couple who stood at the curb with thousands of others waving farewell to the Maori Battalion as they marched down to their troop transport and off to war.

The old couple became very excited as one young soldier glanced their way with a big smile. From their Maori conversation, it became apparent that this was their great-grandson going off to war.

His would be an atomic war with sophisticated equipment capable of killing by the thousands—so unlike the Maori wars of the late 1800s that the old Maori had participated in as a young tribal warrior.

Soon the boy was gone from view, and it was then that the old man turned to his wife and said (perhaps a little cynically), “Ka tahi kua pakeha tatou,” which in effect means, “So now we are civilized.”

Elder Simpson went on to say “[t]hat old Maori great-grandfather had every right to question the true values of so-called civilization,” observing that: “Our jet age of atomic power and automatic everything can be helpful if used properly.”

That deeply ambiguous approach to technology is wise. Technology is a form of knowledge, and knowledge is power, and so technology is power: for good or for ill. The particular gadgets and gizmos of our 21st century world are unique: there have never been iPhones or drones before in human history. But every major technological advance—from the invention of fire to the invention of the printing press—has led us into the same kinds of confrontation. So we’ve got some great new power, now what?

With all the new stuff we’re getting, we should remember the ancient counsel: “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”

A final note: if you’re following along and you read this session, then you know I picked about the only non-political post from this session to write about. The other talks, almost without fail, were some of the most pointedly political I’d ever read, castigating liberals, welfare, and secularism. I’m passing over them without much comment for a simple reason: I’m not really sure what to make of them. I say this as someone who has been conservative his whole life—and remains decidedly right of center to this day—and yet while I basically agree with the comments I have to confess it’s an odd feeling to hear such strident political ideology from the pulpit.

I wrote about this last week, so I might as well reiterate: righteous avarice is my watchword. Too many, I think, make haste to bring their perspective into conformity with what they believe they are hearing and—in so doing—may miss the deeper message. Then there are those who simply write it off whatever they cannot reconcile as the mistakes of fallible leaders. Well, certainly leaders are fallible. And certainly it is generally the best practice to seek conformity with them anyway, and so I see the appeal of both approaches.

But I’m greedy, not hasty. And so I’m still doing my best to try and understand what was going on in these talks and what these political undertones mean to me today.

I haven’t figured it out yet.

Check out the other posts from the General Conference Odyssey this week and join our Facebook group to follow along!

Ex-Megadeth Guitarist: The “Ryan Seacrest of Japan”

“Tornado of Souls” off Megadeth’s Rust in Peace is often considered one of the best–if not the best–solos by then guitarist Marty Friedman (solo starts at 3:09). Being a metal head in high school (and still a big one today), I listened to a lot of Megadeth. I’ve seen them live twice: once with Dream Theater and again with Slash. The majority of my Megadeth albums feature Friedman, who was with the band from 1990-2000. I hadn’t ever thought much about where Friedman went or what he was doing. Apparently, he ended up as the “Ryan Seacrest of Japan.” According to Billboard, Friedman has been there since 2003 and has since “logged more than 600 TV appearances; landed major endorsements with such companies as Coca-Cola (Fanta), Sumitomo Bank and Suntory; written a monthly J-pop column and two best-selling books; acted in a feature film; become a manga comic and performed with some of J-pop’s biggest stars. It’s an incredibly long way from rocking a million faces with Dave Mustaine and Megadeth in their 1990s heyday.” The article goes on to detail his stint with Japanese singer Aikawa Nanase’s band to hosting a TV show called Mr. Heavy Metal in which Friedman woud “create live metal skits on guitar in collaboration with the guests, in which he would play traditional Japanese songs and mix them with heavy metal riffs. While the show did well, it was a biproduct that inextricably change Friedman’s career.” The show was remade into Rock Fujiyama, in which he would go head-to-head with other rockers in various music games. Case in point, Rock A to Z with Mr. Big’s Paul Gilbert:

“When Friedman arrived in Japan he was already fluent in Japanese,” reports Rolling Stone,

which he’d taught himself as a hobby, but it was the pull of a musical culture he’d long admired from afar – and as a visitor with Megadeth and his earlier band Cacophony – that compelled him to move halfway across the world. “It all comes down to the music,” he emphasizes. “That’s why I’m here. As much as I love Japan, I would not be living 7,000 miles away from my family and friends in America if it weren’t for the great music. If you look at the Top 10 on the charts here, I can pick any day of the week and nine of those songs, I would definitely say, ‘I dig that a lot.’ In America, I would be very lucky if there was one song in that Top 10 that I could enjoy.” Not for the only time throughout our day together, Friedman moderates that statement — he wants to make clear that he’s not looking down his nose at American pop. “It has nothing to do with good or bad or valuable or not valuable,” he says. “It’s just my own personal taste tends to be what’s going on in Japan.”

…Friedman explains that Japanese pop music is typically much more complex than its American counterpart. He compares the structure of Japanese pop songs – which he says might contain as many as 60 chords, compared to six or so in a typical Western pop song – to that of a jazz format but with extremely strong, pop-sensible melodies. “And this is not considered progressive at all,” he says admiringly, “This can be in the poppiest music you’ve ever heard.” Put another way, “the amount of information within a song if you were to reduce it to data would be a lot more than you’d find in Western mainstream music.” 

Friedman has expressed his adoration for Japanese metal idol group Babymetal and even the more pop-oriented Momoira Clover Z (whose “Infinite Love” he calls the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ of idol music”). But “[w]ould Friedman conside[r] moving back to the States after more than a decade in Japan?” asks Rolling Stone.

Maybe. “This is my home,” he says, “but I would love to be in L.A. My mom’s there, the weather’s good, the music’s good. I can barely get away long enough to tour for four or five weeks, so, living there.” He pauses. “I wouldn’t even know what to do in America.”

And now, enjoy him rocking out with Queen M. from Animetal the Second as they perform a metal version of the opening song to the anime Puella Magi Madoka Magica (performance starts at 2:01).

Why Is Swearing Offensive?

Warning: language.

That’s all swearing is, right?

I find swearing to be a interesting taboo, one I engage in without any real sense of guilt. In my religious community, I’ve heard the virtues of having “clean language” and how Mormons “don’t use that kind of language.” I’ve also heard variations of “if you cuss, you must not be intelligent enough to express yourself in another way.” Ironically, this is often thrown out by individuals possessing an unimpressive vocabulary and poor communication skills (jokes on them, according to recent research).

But why do we find swearing offensive? It’s obviously not something innate in the words themselves. It’s absurd to argue for a literal evil inherent in the arbitrary sounds that a certain group of people attach meaning to, especially when those sounds are meaningless to those unaccustomed to them (Japanese, Russian, or French swear words mean nothing to me since I don’t speak any of the those languages). According to philosopher Rebecca Roache, swear words

have a special role in expressing and communicating emotion. The expressions ‘My car has been stolen’ and ‘For f**k’s sake, my f**king car’s been stolen!’ both assert the same thing, but the second also conveys a sense of anger, desperation, and annoyance, thanks to the inclusion of swearing. As the linguist Geoffrey Nunberg has remarked, ‘[s]wear words don’t describe your feelings; they manifest them’. It is this unique role in expressing emotion that separates swearing from other uses of language, including other types of taboo language.

This rings true to me. Before authoring The No Asshole Rule, Stanford’s Robert Sutton published an article in the Harvard Business Review on the subject. He recollects, “I argued that censored and watered-down variations like “the no jerk rule” or “the no bully rule” simply didn’t have the same ring of authenticity or emotional appeal, and I would be interested in writing an essay only if they actually printed the phrase “the no asshole rule.” …HBR not only published the rule…but the word asshole was printed a total of eight times in this short essay!” Jerk or bully don’t carry the same intensity as asshole. They don’t convey the same amount of disgust, frustration, anger, or even hurt. It’s fairly easy to brush off, “You’re a jerk!” It stings a little more when you’re called an asshole.

Image result for pardon my french you're an asshole gif

In order to understand outbursts of expletives, “we need to consider not what the speaker is referring to or talking about, but what he aims to indicate about his emotions. This makes swearing, in such circumstances, more like a scream than an utterance: just like a scream, it expresses emotion without being about anything.” After further analysis, Roache gets to the crux of the problem:

[O]nce we have established preferences about behaviour, the capacity for certain behaviour to become offensive arises quite naturally…Suppose that you make a new friend named Rebecca, and you fall into the habit of addressing her as Rachel. After you have done this a couple of times, Rebecca politely points out that her name is Rebecca, not Rachel. If, after she has drawn your attention to this, you persist in calling her Rachel, she is likely to begin to feel annoyed, and she might repeat the request to call her Rebecca. If you ignore her request a second or third time, then – provided that she has no reason to believe you have failed to understand her requests, nor that you are incapable of easily complying with them – she is likely to eventually view your behaviour as offensive. What started out as merely a dispreferred (by Rebecca) way of speaking, then, becomes offensive.

…When you continue to call her Rachel even after she has reminded you of her name, she concludes that you are being unreasonably inconsiderate of her wishes. And when you persist in calling her Rachel even after she has pointed out several times that this is not her name, it is difficult for her to avoid the conclusion that you are deliberately using an inappropriate form of address in order to upset her.

..In this example, we do not find an explanation for the offensiveness of the dispreferred expression in the expression itself. There is nothing whatsoever that is offensive about the name Rachel. Rather, the expression grows to be offensive after it has filtered through a chain of inferences that speaker and audience make about each other and about each other’s inferences. In essence: you know that Rebecca’s name is not Rachel, and you know that she dislikes being called Rachel, yet you nevertheless continue to call her Rachel; Rebecca knows that you know all this, and concludes from your behaviour in light of this knowledge that you are hostile towards her; you, in turn, recognise all this yet persist in calling her Rachel; Rebecca sees that you do this and so takes offence. Let’s call this way in which the offensiveness of dispreferred behaviour arises from these sorts of inferences between speaker and audience offence escalation.

She concludes,

What does this tell us about whether or not swearing is morally wrong? It is helpful, once again, to compare swearing to etiquette breaches. Since it’s preferable not to upset people where we can easily avoid doing so, we have some reason not to swear in contexts where it is likely to offend. The same holds for etiquette breaches. Even so, in most cases, we tend not to view breaches of etiquette as immoral, even where it causes offence. You would find my refusal to thank you for your good turn rude, but you would probably not deem it morally suspect. You would make a similar judgment were I to swear in the course of a polite conversation.

The whole thing is worth reading, though perhaps not for those easily offended by foul language.

Theology of Work: Flourish

Sunday will soon turn into Monday. The sun will set on the Lord’s Day–the Christian Sabbath–and rise again at the beginning of a new work week. This intimate connection reminds me of Jewish theologian and Civil Rights activist Abraham Heschel’s comments on work’s relation to the Sabbath:

Image result for the sabbath heschelAdam was placed in the Garden of Eden “to dress it and to keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Labor is not only the destiny of man; it is endowed with divine dignity. However, after he ate of the tree of knowledge he was condemned to toil, not only to labor “In toil shall thou eat … all the days of thy life” (Genesis 3:17). Labor is a blessing, toil is the misery of man. The Sabbath as a day of abstaining from work is not a depreciation but an affirmation of labor, a divine exaltation of its dignity. Thou shalt abstain from labor on the seventh day is a sequel to the command: Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work [Ex. 20:9]…The duty to work for six days is just as much a part of God’s covenant with man as the duty to abstain from work on the seventh day.

I thought of this while reading this piece on developing a theology of work in the face of growing protectionism. As the author explains (in this admittedly long excerpt),

[T]he failure of modern conservatism to combat trade protectionism is not just a failure to communicate economics; it’s a failure to promote a holistic philosophy of life and a healthy theology of work, one that’s oriented not toward a self-constructed “American dream,” but toward an authentic pursuit of full-scale freedom, good stewardship and human flourishing…Though it will pain many Americans to hear it…work is not ultimately about you. Yes, work provides sustenance and stability. Yes, it puts bread on the table and a roof over our heads. Yes, these are baseline comforts of a stable society, and yes, self-preservation is a good thing.

But we are no longer isolated hunters and gatherers. We live and work within a far-flung economy, and our hands are united with a large community of people. We are part of civilization, a glorious handiwork of human laborers — creatures made in the image of a creative God — working and collaborating together, and that is a good thing.

As Lester DeKoster reminds us, work is ultimately about “service to others and thus to God.” With this theology at our backs, the economic fruits of free trade are simply fruits: byproducts of humans working and serving together as God created us to do.

“Work restores the broken family of humankind,” DeKoster writes. “Through work that serves others, we also serve God, and he in exchange weaves the work of others into a culture that makes our work easier and more rewarding … As seed multiplies into a harvest under the wings of the Holy Spirit, so work multiplies into a civilization under the intricate hand of the same Spirit.”

…If work is about service to others, no longer should Foreigner X or Migrant Worker Y or Unskilled Laborer Z be viewed as “stealing your job,” though the frustration will surely persist. Instead, we should realize that they, like us, are finally able to participate in the global economy, offering their own forms of service and their own unique gifts and talents in new and efficient ways. They are participating in God’s grand design for work.

Through this lens, the prospect of job loss is no longer an occasion to mope about what was or wasn’t an “American job” in years gone by. The pain and nostalgia will likely endure, but we can remain hopeful and confident in knowing our work is not done. In these cases, job loss is simply a signal of how we might best use our time on behalf of others. It’s an opportunity to adapt and retool, to serve the community in new and better ways, as uncomfortable and inconvenient as it may be. That’s going to require an entire shift in the imagination of America, but it’s one that will revive and replenish far more than surface-level economic growth.

Happy Sabbath. And happy Monday.

The Goldilocks Theory of Marriage and Divorce

What age is just right for marriage if you want the lowest chance of divorce? Turns out it’s late 20s to early 30s. Sociologist Nicholas Wolfinger explains,

I analyzed data collected between 2006 and 2010 from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG). The trick is to use statistical methods that permit nonlinear relationships to emerge (click here for more information on these methods). My data analysis shows that prior to age 32 or so, each additional year of age at marriage reduces the odds of divorce by 11 percent. However, after that the odds of divorce increase by 5 percent per year. The change in slopes is statistically significant. The graph below shows what the relationship between age at marriage and divorce looks like now. This is a big change. To the best of my knowledge, it’s only recently that thirty-something marriage started to incur a higher divorce risk. It appears to be a trend that’s gradually developed over the past twenty years: a study based on 2002 data observed that the divorce risk for people who married in their thirties was flattening out, rather than continuing to decline through that decade of life as it previously had.


Why? Wolfinger suggests a selection effect:

[T]he kinds of people who wait till their thirties to get married may be the kinds of people who aren’t predisposed toward doing well in their marriages. For instance, some people seem to be congenitally cantankerous. Such people naturally have trouble with interpersonal relationships. Consequently they delay marriage, often because they can’t find anyone willing to marry them. When they do tie the knot, their marriages are automatically at high risk for divorce. More generally, perhaps people who marry later face a pool of potential spouses that has been winnowed down to exclude the individuals most predisposed to succeed at matrimony.

…Many people who delay marriage nowadays for financial reasons marry as soon as they feel they can afford it. These are the people who wed in their late twenties, the years of peak marital stability. The folks remaining in the pool of marriage-eligible singles are the kinds of people who aren’t well suited to succeed at matrimony (irrespective of their financial well-being).

…This is all conjecture. But we do know beyond a shadow of a doubt that people who marry in their thirties are now at greater risk of divorce than are people who wed in their late twenties. This is a new development. This finding changes the demographic landscape of divorce, and lends credence to scholars and pundits making the case for earlier marriage.


age at marriage divorce

Can this be replicated? Wolfinger writes,

Replication is always crucial in the social sciences. I therefore sought to reproduce my findings with more recent data from the NSFG, the 2011-2013 survey (for details about my data analysis, click here). The primary result, depicted below, was almost identical to what I obtained from the 2006-2010 survey: the 28 to 32 age range remains the period of lowest divorce risk.

marrage age & divorce risk as of 2011-13 0 orderage divorce risk 2011 2013

When Wolfinger “controlled for respondents’ sex, race, family structure of origin, age at the time of the survey, education, religious tradition, religious attendance, and sexual history, as well as whether the respondent had a child prior to wedlock, and the size of the metropolitan area that they live in,” there was “a gentler increase in divorce risk for people marrying after their early thirties.”

marriage age & divorce 2011-13 controls

He concludes, “I have now shown the Goldilocks effect using two different data sets, the 2006-2010 and the 2011-2013 National Surveys of Family Growth, and more than 10,000 respondents. Its existence is beyond question. Explaining the Goldilocks effect, however, will require additional scholarship.”

Stop Treating Women Like Men in Business

Image result for gender differences

At least that’s what one consultant advocates over at the Harvard Business Review blog. “As long as men and women are treated exactly the same by organizations,” says Avivah Wittenberg-Cox,

most women will continue to be shut out of senior roles. And yet for the past 30 years, managers have been taught to do just this: treat men and women exactly the same. That is considered the progressive thing to do. Any suggestion of difference was, and often still is, labelled a bias or a stereotype, especially by many women, eager to demonstrate that they are one of the guys, or the in-group.

The business world’s denial of differences hurts women, and excludes them in a myriad of ways – consciously and unconsciously – from leadership. Because differences are not recognized, women are too often simply judged as “not fitting” the dominant group’s systems, styles and patterns. There were good reasons for pushing “sameness” in the past, and the laws of many countries underlie today’s companies’ insistence on similar treatment – being treated the same is, after all, better than being treated worse. But today, those are not our only options. It’s time for companies to adapt to women – or watch them walk out the door to competitors who will. In all the companies I work with, lack of recognition of basic differences like career cycles, communication styles, or attitudes to power is enough to eliminate one gender and prefer the other.

As an example of role reversal, she points out

that because eight out of nine U.S. teachers today are women, schools today judge boys learning styles subpar because they deviate from the norm set by girls and women. Instead of adapting to boys’ differences (“more physical energy, developmentally less mature, use language differently,” as he put it), we insist that both genders behave the same, and medicate our sons to calm them down. According to [Michael] Thompson, 11% of American boys are diagnosed as having ADHD and are on drugs for it. That’s 85% of the global ADHD drug consumption. And since the late 1990s, boys have been more likely to drop out of school than girls. Imbalances like these help account for the growing gender imbalance in higher education (60% of university graduates will soon be women in the U.S.).

She quick to explain that she is not calling for “special treatment.” She is also not arguing for the innateness of gender differences. “After all,” she says,

businesses don’t debate whether the differences between Chinese and American employees are innate. They know that to work with and for the Chinese requires learning their language and culture. Working across genders is similar. Companies and managers, as well as teachers and educators, will need to learn the real and imagined differences between genders – and adapt to them if they want to work with and for both men and women. They urgently need to become “gender bilingual” if they want to tap into today’s talent pool.

Worth thinking about.

Are Patents Slowing the Productivity of Some Firms?

According to Noah Smith, a 2015 OECD report “looked at productivity not at the global or national level, but at the corporate level. Different companies have different technologies, different management systems and different levels of talent…At a small number of companies, productivity growth hasn’t slowed at all. If you look at only these “global frontier” companies, there has been no productivity slowdown at all! This is especially true in services industries…The top performers have blazed ahead, while other companies have stagnated or even become less productive.”

Smith offers a number of possibilities for this difference, but the most interesting one revolves around patents:

[I]ntellectual property law is making it harder for companies to use ideas developed at other companies. There has been an explosion in the number of patents granted in the U.S. since the early 1980s. In Japan the increase has been even more dramatic. Some of the fastest growth has been in patents for business methods — exactly the kind of thing that ought to diffuse across companies and equalize productivity. In earlier ages, businesses could freely copy each other’s way of doing things; now, it is often illegal. 

Some level of patent protection, of course, is necessary to encourage innovation. But many economists believe that we now give out far too many patents, often for innovations of questionable originality. This is something we would expect to increase the gap between the most productive companies and the rest. 

Whatever the reason for the divergence between companies, we need to find it and fix it if we can. The divergence could be affecting a lot more than productivity. A torrent of research in the past decade suggests that much of the increase in wage inequality in developed countries is due to differences in wages between different companies — work for a good company and you get better pay, work for a bad one and you’re out of luck. Fixing the productivity divergence might help us fight inequality as well. 

Interesting stuff.

Reducing Poverty & Improving Economic Mobility

A 2015 Brookings report written for the campaign season is still relevant today. Researcher Isabel Sawhill lays out a few major ideas candidates could use to reduce poverty and improve economic mobility. Three hurdles necessary for climbing out of poverty are:

  1. Graduating high school
  2. Working full-time
  3. Delaying parenthood until they in a stable, two-parent family

Sawhill proposes a number of policies aimed at helping people achieve these objectives:

Sawhill 1118002

  • To support work, make the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) refundable and cap it at $100,000 in household income. Because the credit is currently non-refundable, low-income families receive little or no benefit, while those with incomes above $100,000 receive generous tax deductions. This proposal would make the program more equitable and facilitate low-income parents’ labor force participation, at no additional cost.
  • To strengthen families, make the most effective forms of birth control (IUDs and implants) more widely available at no cost to women, along with good counselling and a choice of all FDA-approved methods. Programs that have done this in selected cities and states have reduced unplanned pregnancies, saved money, and given women better ability to delay parenthood until they and their partners are ready to be parents. Delayed childbearing reduces poverty rates and leads to better prospects for the children in these families.

Check out the full paper.

Nobel Economist on Inequality

ANGUS DEATON | ‘Some of the enormous riches we’re seeing at the top in the U.S. today are coming from activities whose social value is in doubt.’

I found this two-year-old WSJ interview with Angus Deaton while I was combing through some saved posts. I thought it was worth highlighting. Here are a few excerpts that convey Deaton’s thoughts on inequality:

[Inequality] could [even] be people at the bottom versus people in the middle. One of the things that has happened is that at the very bottom there may actually be some squeezing up of those gaps partly because people in the middle may be being replaced by offshoring and so on. Whereas people at the bottom who are mainly in service jobs really can’t be, so they’re doing relatively well.

…I both love inequality and am terrified of it. Inequality is partly a marker of success, so that if someone thinks of something, some new innovation that benefits us all, and the market works properly, they get richly rewarded for that.

And that’s just terrific. And that creates inequality. So some of the greatest inequalities in the world have come from the greatest successes.

The terror part is—well, there are several different things. One that I worry about is that some of the enormous riches we’re seeing at the top in the United States today are coming from activities whose social value is in doubt. So some of the activities that are going on in Wall Street that are occupying some of the smartest of our young minds, it’s not entirely clear that their society really wants them to be doing that as opposed to innovating in the private sector, or curing cancer. The other thing that I worry about is the political power that comes with extreme wealth.

He also discusses some alarming findings from his most recent research:

We’ve seen mortality rates falling for the best part of 100 years, maybe even longer. When we looked at the total mortality rates for this middle-aged group from 45 to 55 and we saw they were rising—I mean, this is something that’s been falling forever.

And then about 1998 it just turns and starts going the other way. So, there’s this increase in mortality. And it’s almost entirely for white non-Hispanics. Black mortality rates are falling even faster than they’d ever been, Hispanic rates are falling on track.

The rates in middle age for all European countries are falling exactly as they have been, as they were in the U.S. up until 1998. But for this group, this middle-aged, white non-Hispanics, this mortality rate is going up. If you look at the causes of death that are most rapidly rising, it’s suicides, the biggest one is poisonings…And of course that’s what they’d call accidental overdoses. A lot of it is from prescription painkillers and a lot of it is from illegal drugs, and then a lot of it’s from alcohol.

…This is much worse among those who have a high-school education or less. These are the people who just have not benefited from the positive changes that have happened in the economy as a whole…That doesn’t explain everything, because there are people being left behind in Europe, too. The two explanations that have been floated are that Europe has a more elaborate safety net than we have. And most European countries do not allow overprescription of heavy-duty, dangerous painkillers the way we do here.

Check it out.

How the Economy Works: Pepperdine Lecture by Roger Farmer

This is part of the DR Book Collection.

Image result for how the economy works farmer

Anyone familiar with my posts knows that economics is a major interest of mine. Hence, my interest in UCLA economist Roger Farmer’s book How the Economy Works: Confidence, Crashes, and Self-Fulfilling PropheciesFarmer provides a nice, succinct overview of the history of major economic ideas, from Adam Smith to John Maynard Keynes to Robert Lucas. He then provides an interesting merge between the principles of classical and Keynesian economics for economic recovery. Ronald Johnson of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics summarizes Farmer’s position better than I can:

He believes that fiscal policy might help, but it should not involve an increase in government expenditures. However, he also believes that fiscal policy acts more slowly than monetary policy, which he clearly prefers. Since 1951, the Federal Reserve has reacted to recessions by lowering the interest rate it charges to commercial banks. Following the 2008 financial crisis, central banks throughout the world engaged in an unprecedented set of new and unconventional policies known collectively as quantitative easing. This strategy involved the purchase of a kind of asset other than government bonds, namely, mortgage-backed securities. Farmer believes that quantitative easing was the right approach, but that it should have gone further. He proposes qualitative easing, which he defines as a change in the composition of the central bank’s assets. Specifically, he would have the central bank prevent large stock movements, both up and down, from adversely affecting the economy. The bank would assert this control by the use of an index fund, the intent of which would be to manage the value of national stock market wealth by targeting the rate of growth of the fund. The Fed would announce a price path for its index funds, and the central bank would stand by ready to buy and sell the funds each day at the announced price.

Farmer concludes his book with the following:

There is much to be admired in the market system. It is the single most powerful engine of economic growth that human beings have devised. But we have not lived in a free market system for at least a century. The question is not whether to regulate the market—it is how to regulate it. As we learn more about market systems perhaps we will understand better not just why they work well but also how they occasionally fail. It is my hope that we can learn to control the economy that we live in without killing the goose that lays the golden egg (pg. 166-167).

I found Farmer’s ideas interesting, if somewhat unconvincing. The book is useful nonetheless.

You can see a five part lecture by Farmer at Pepperdine University below: