When Adam disobeyed the Lord in the garden, what was his punishment? He had to get a job. (To say nothing of the punishment of having to wear pants.) Until that first sin, there was no such thing in the world as labor. Actually having to work is the punishment that men endure because of original sin. No longer do all good things simply spring up from the ground, but bread must be earned “by the sweat of one’s brow.”
As an American, however, I was raised in the shadow of the “Puritan work ethic.” Labor has been transformed from a punishment to a solemn duty. According to Albert Jay Nock in his scathing Our Enemy the State, “this erection of labour into a Christian virtue per se, this investment of work with a special religious sanction, was an invention of Puritanism.” As England changed from Catholic feudalism to a Puritan merchant state, what is more natural than the emerging merchant class teaching the working class that God wants them to embrace labor? What better way to ensure a productive workforce than to tell them that hard work is a religious mandate?
As compelling as Nock is, I am unable to give up on hard work as a virtue. It seems to build character and, if viewed properly, teaches valuable lessons about patience, the value of time, and myriad other things. The sticking point for me is the idea that it is a religious virtue. I agree with Nock that “there is no hint that God would take it amiss if one preferred to do little work and put up with a poor living, for the sake of doing something else with one’s time.”
So work hard and enjoy the proceeds (both tangible or otherwise) of your labor. Or don’t work hard and enjoy that.
Beer of the Week: Dos Equis Amber Lager – Dos Equis Amber Lager has a dark cream head, almost tan, that hangs around for much longer than expected. The beer itself is surprisingly clear for how dark it is. The smell is dominated by bready malts. The taste is very much the same. There is not much hops to speak of, but a full, rich malt profile makes this beer a winner. There is a lingering sweetness that might be just a bit too much, but otherwise, this is a darn good beer. I am glad somebody worked hard to make it.
Reading of the week: Our Enemy The State by Albert Jay Nock – Nock has a very firm and critical grasp of history and his willingness to take on deeply seated beliefs and ideas is very impressive. This reading shows of both of these qualities. Nock writes that “the best witness to the essential character of the Puritan movement in England and America is the thoroughness with which its doctrine of work has pervaded both literatures, all the way from Cromwell’s letters to Carlyle’s panegyric and Longfellow’s verse.”
Since the beer is “Two X’s” and Nock specifically mentions Longfellow, I include:
Bonus reading: The Village Blacksmith by H. W. Longfellow – This poem is a perfect illustration of what Nock wrote about Longfellow and the Puritan work doctrine. The smith loves his family and is a godly man, but his paramount virtue is his labor. He is a hero because he works hard “Week in, week out, from morn till night” and like Adam, the smithy’s “brow is wet with honest sweat.”
Question of the week: I feel a strong resistance to Nock, but I cannot put it into words. Is that because there actually is something wrong with Nock’s characterization of work ethic, or is it because I have been thoroughly indoctrinated?
Last autumn, I got on a ship and sailed from Korea to the east coast of Russia, the first leg of a 2+ month journey on which I was embarking. Naturally, I was very anxious about the whole trip. I also already missed the friends I’d left behind in Seoul, many of whom I had no realistic expectation of ever seeing again. I was lonely and ill at ease. But in the evening, I found a bench on deck to lie on. I looked up into the immense, dark sky and saw stars that I’d not seen in months. See, the night sky in Seoul is so badly polluted with light that often only the moon and the planets are visible. But out at sea, miles from shore, I saw so many stars that I became positively giddy.
Cities are amazing. They provide marketplaces where any taste can be satisfied, cultural exchanges of all sorts, and innumerable diversions. But they have their down-sides as well. They have everything, but precious little space to put it all; all of the sights, but none of the skies. I consider myself extremely lucky to have spent nights in cities where neon bar signs burn until the metro re-opens in the morning. I am equally lucky to have spent nights where there is no cellphone reception and no lights to spoil “the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars.”
Beer of the Week: Fosters Lager: The stars on Fosters cans make up the Southern Cross, a constellation that is not visible to most of the northern hemisphere. While in Australia, I got a chance to see the Southern Cross. I also learned that a more appropriate slogan for Fosters would be, ”Fosters: Australian for tourist,” since the natives generally prefer other brews. Fosters has is a very subtle hint of beer flavor. Mostly it is just water flavored. There really is nothing to this beer at all. Also, if you are in the United States, be sure to check your labels; there is a good chance this beer is brewed in Canada, Texas or Georgia.
Reading for the Week: Clancy Of The Overflow by Banjo Paterson – Australia’s premier poet wrote this lovely piece that compares the city life with that of a cowboy. Clancy moved out to the country to drive cattle, and the narrator of the poem would gladly trade the dirty, crowded city for the open spaces that Clancy’s found. I can’t say I blame him.
Question for the week: Do the respective appeals of city and country life speak to opposite desires in our nature, or do they appeal to the same desires in different ways?
Education, formal education, usually stops in one’s early twenties. There are those who achieve advanced degrees and, if they are fortunate, remain involved in formal education for the rest of their lives. The life of the student is somewhat glorified in my mind. My love of learning is so deep that I can scarcely imagine a better life than that of a professional learner of things. Recently, however, I have made attempts to see the value of a life beyond books. As Alexei Fyodorovich said in Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, “People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education.”
Memory preserves us. A memory of goodness and warmth can protect us from straying from the right path. Above all, the reason that memory is a good education is the reason that all education is good: it prepares us for whatever the future might hold.
Dostoevsky isn’t advocating a life of nostalgia, but a life guided by deeply embedded principles. The man with good and cherished memories doesn’t pine for what he has lost, but he sees in his memory all of the good things of which he is capable. Karamazov tells us that the man with but a single cherished memory “will reflect and say, ‘Yes, I was good and brave and honest then!’” And that memory will remind him that he can still be so good and so brave and so honest.
Look back at your greatest moments and reflect on all the greatness that may yet lie before you. All you must do is remember how good you can be. “Don’t be afraid of life! How good life is when one does something good and just!”
Beer of the Week: Mickey’s Fine Malt Liquor – As it turns out, Mickey’s Malt Liquor is what you should drink if you don’t want to remember. The distinction between beer and malt liquor is primarily a legal technical one. In many administrative districts, once a beer exceeds a certain alcohol content it must be marketed as “malt liquor”. There are a few beers, such as Carlsberg Elephant, that are “premium” beers labeled as malt liquor. However, the bulk of beers known as malt liquor are simply cheap, high alcohol beer. Mickey’s falls into this category The distinctive ”hand grenade bottle really should be enough to warn the consumer that this is a bad choice to ingest. Mickey’s is actually just unremarkable, but most malt liquors aren’t brewed to be remarkable. It is not good, but if the goal is to get hammered while drinking out of bottles that look like explosive ordnance .. well, there you have it.
Upon drinking the second bottle (I always drink two of each beer I review,) I am beginning to suspect that I actually have an acquired taste aversion to this beer. Maybe I drank too much one night that I don’t totally recall and it made me sick. For whatever reason, the first sip of the second glass instantly made me feel a bit queasy. In fact, now that I think about it, the last time I had this beer, I also ate an inordinate number of steamed shrimps. My body rejected the combination of Mickey’s and shrimps. Some things are best forgotten.
Reading for the Week: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky – This excerpt from the end of the novel is pretty much what I want somebody to read at my funeral. I have seldom been so emotionally moved by a piece of writing. Maybe I should read it sober, just to be sure.
Question for the week: What memory do you have that edifies and preserves you?
Many Americans just recently filed their federal income taxes. Some of them are eagerly awaiting refund checks, or even refund direct deposits since “who writes checks anymore?” There are two things that these people should remember:
1. This money is not a gift from the government. It is your money that you already earned. Think of it more as an interest free loan to the government that you are forced to make and you have to ask nicely before they will pay back.
2. Tax money (money that you worked for and that the government has appropriated) that gets spent on “stimulus” is false economy.* The problem with stimulus spending is that it only accounts for what is seen, not what is unseen.
Every dollar that the government spends is a dollar that some productive person could have spent himself.** We see the government spending the dollar and count it as stimulus. What remains unseen is what the taxpayer would have done with that dollar if he had been allowed to keep it. As it turns out, it is more than likely that he would have spent it. Not only would he have spent it, but he would have spent it on something that he wanted. That is to say, he would have gained something in exchange. Instead, the government gave it to somebody else to spend. The net effect on the economy looks like of $0 (since either way, one dollar gets spent.) However, the tax payer doesn’t get the benefit of his own dollar and the government doesn’t operate for free. So the taxpayer loses a dollar (or, what amounts to the same thing, whatever he would have spent that dollar on) and the economy loses the administrative cost of the government mechanism. So stimulus spending is a net loss.***
Beer of the Week: Bitburger Pilsner – Simple is good. This beer is very simple. It smells of soft malt and a bit of hops. The flavor and texture are both light and refreshing. It is not a great beer, but it is a very nice beer that is made for drinking.
Reading for the Week: The Broken Window by Fredrick Bastiat – In this short and amazingly clear and intelligible economic parable Bastiat explains why a broken window may be good for the window maker, but it is a net loss for the economy on the whole. It is all, as is evident from the title of the essay that contains this parable, all about That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Unseen.
Question for the week: Is there a fundamental difference between stimulus spending and breaking windows? (Hint: In an earlier reading on this site, Bastiat used physical obstructions as an allegory to tariffs.)
It is a ridiculous position to be in, but I find very often that I have to defend a statement that seems self-evident: war is bad. It is obviously bad for the people who die and for the people who are wounded physically and psychologically. But it is also bad for the people who pay for it with their taxes and for the economies that suffer because capital that could be invested in products that improve quality of life is instead invested in devices that blow things up.
As Leo Tolstoy wrote, “in all history there is no war which was not hatched by the governments, the governments alone, independent of the interests of the people, to whom war is always pernicious even when successful.” The heads of government (and their cronies) are the sole beneficiaries of war.
As a response to my beliefs on this subject, one night I was accused of not “supporting our troops.” I had been drinking heavily and decided that my antagonist was correct; I have not done enough to support the troops. It is easy to forget that although it is politicians, the companies that pay for their campaigns, and career military men who are the cause and driving force of war, it is honest young men and women who suffer and die.
Then and there, I made a commitment to do something to support the troops: I wrote to my congressmen and senators, insisting that they introduce or support legislation that would bring home our troops stationed abroad. Of course, I have little faith in the efficacy of writing letters to politicians, but it was the best way I could think of to support the troops. If we really care about these young men and women (which I do), then the loving and compassionate thing to do is to bring them home, take the guns out of their hands, and pour them a nice, cold beer.
Beer of the Week: Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale – It surprised me when I learned that Ireland remained neutral during the Second World War. They certainly had their priorities straight by choosing beers over bombs. Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale is an Irish nitrogen widget beer. As I stated in the review of Guinness Draught, I am not sure that I understand how it works. Notwithstanding, the results are the same in this beer. The head is creamy, lasts forever and pours with some very attractive cascading. The aroma is of sweet roasted malts and the flavor is no different. The ruby brown beer is sweet and smooth and quite enjoyable.
Reading of the week: On Patriotism by Leo Tolstoy – “Patriotism,” writes Tolstoy, “[is] the abdication of human dignity, reason, and conscience… Patriotism is slavery.” For Tolstoy, patriotism is not a love of one’s land and people, but a “slavish enthralment to those in power.”
Question of the week: Is there a valid and meaningful distinction between “patriotism” and “nationalism”?
Last month news broke that Anheuser-Busch InBev is facing two big law suits. The more sensational suit is a class-action that alleges that they have been watering down their beers. Specifically, they are accused of adding water directly before bottling, reducing the alcohol percentage of several of their brands below the level stated on the labels. The reduction is claimed to be as high as 8%. (That is, 8% of 5%. So less than half of a percent. Numbers sure are nifty that way.)
As I mentioned in a recent post, class-actions are basically scams. The only people who get very positive results are the attorneys; successful plaintiffs generally get paid in coupons. My other beef with them is the math used to calculate damages. The plaintiffs in this case want the court to award $5 million in damages for AB InBev selling them 4.7% beer with a label that says 5%. How in the world is that worth $5 million in damages? Don’t get me wrong; if they are actually selling a product that is not consistent with the label, that is both wrong and illegal and they should be punished. And if InBev made an additional $5 million by filling more cans with less beer, they have no right to that money. But I just can’t imagine a scenario where I could stand in front of a judge and say under oath, “The difference between the label and the product was enough to cause me material damages on the order of 6-figures. But the product was not bad enough for me to just buy a different beer. Because, seriously, I bought a six-pack of Budweiser every week for the past four years, even after I had found that I was dissatisfied with the product.”
What makes this case even more suspect is the fact that adding water immediately before bottling is totally standard practice and is in no way improper. They brew the beer slightly strong to begin with and then add water to get the alcohol level to the exact level they want. NPR decided to test some of the beers for themselves and found every one tested to be “well within federal limits” of their labeled alcohol content.
The second law suit is an anti-trust suit. The feds are trying to prevent AB InBev from purchasing Modelo, brewers of Corona. The logic of the suit is that the acquisition would create a giant company capable of obstructing the free market and causing price increases. As much as I love the idea of protecting the free market, the claims just don’t seem to make much sense to me. AB InBev is already a giant company. But they have been losing ground to smaller brewers for years now. Adding a few more macro-brews to their portfolio isn’t going to grant them a stranglehold on the market. If they attempted to raise prices across their newly acquired lines, that would only make it easier for other breweries to gain market-share just by keeping their prices the same. If anything, I’d expect prices to drop as the company consolidates production and streamlines distribution. It seems likely to me that AB InBev just didn’t make the right campaign contributions to make this deal go through smoothly.
Beer of the Week: Cafri – Until these law suits are sorted out (or until I forget,) I am boycotting AB InBev and Modelo beers. So this week’s beer is an unaffiliated, Corona-like brew from Korea. And, for what it is, it isn’t bad. Cafri is clear and smooth. It certainly does not have much flavor at all, but what is there is not at all offensive. It is more than adequate as a Corona substitute and was at one point my go-to cheap Korean beer.
Reading of the week: The Code of Hammurabi, Selections – The oldest extant written code of law seems primitive in some respects; there are regulations about how and when family members can be sold into slavery and under what conditions rape victims should be executed. But there are also some “progressive” laws; there are minimum wage requirements and laws that relieve debtors in the event that their crops are destroyed by acts of god. Also, there is a law against overcharging for beer. The penalty (rightfully) is death by drowning. Not in beer, in the river.
Question of the week: Under The Code of Hammurabi, a judge whose decision is later shown to have been made in error is permanently removed from the bench and forced to pay back the fine he imposed 12-fold. Would the American judicial system be better if judges whose decisions were overturned on appeal were forced to retire?