Friday, October 15, 2004

Relationships: Rules of the Road

How, indeed, do we make functional choices?

Very early on, I wrote about shortcuts. These are our guides for living based on that which we have been taught, our personal experiences, and that which we have observed.

Our world is dynamic. Groups are formed and dissolve as they gain and lose function. Guidelines appear and disappear as the circumstances and interactions change. Nevertheless, some aspects of human existence remain fairly constant... and it is from these aspects that we formulate our "truths"... our beliefs and morality and ethics.

Humans are "herd" animals. Humans that live in isolation are less likely to survive. Herds survive by spreading the risk and sharing the resources. There are implicit "rules" of the herd. Rules allow the weak and strong to co-exist while acknowledging the strong through larger shares of the resources and protecting the weak by receiving a measure of protection from the strong. So, killing another member of the herd is prohibited except under extreme circumstances. Allowing the strong to kill the weak at will would destroy the herd. Sharing resources, albeit unequally, satisfies the strong and accomodates the weak.

So human herds have "commandments", "laws", "rules of engagement", "God's truth"... constants that reflect the ongoing dynamics of herd living. Of course there are variations! Rules of conduct, customs, traditions... they are all variations of basic herd dynamics that occur because of differences in environment, resources, and accidents of the past... something worked once and the lesson stuck. That's why so many religious beliefs have so much in common... despite the particulars that separate them. Questioners through time have all come to common conclusions about what was beneficial to the herd and what was destructive. Since most societies have had a belief in a creator of some sort... a god or gods... because they had no other explanation for existence... then the recognition of what was good or beneficial for the herd was easily transformed into "God's will" or "God's commandment". Men were physically stronger than women, so it was "God's will" that women be subservient to men. The strong got a larger share of the herd's resources, so it was "God's will" that a man could have up to four wives... if he was strong enough or rich enough to care for them.

The particulars varied from desert to islands to grasslands, but the general "truths" of the herd remained fairly constant. As the herds became larger and man's mastery over his environment became greater, "God's laws" required augmentation... greater specificity: laws of conduct, business law, rules of the road.... But all based on the cumulative shortcuts that have help mankind survive within his groups for millenia.

Our choices then become functional or dysfunctional within the larger context of the herd. The variations among herds allow some dysfunctional choices of one herd to become functional... appropriate... choices of others. It is often the combination of territorial encroachment and variations in what is deemed appropriate that bring herds... nations or cultures... into conflict.

Hence, suicide is a sign of mental illness in the West, but honored as "martyrdom" if done in the name of Allah against an "infidel" enemy. Or perhaps we only see it as suicide because death is certain for the attacker. Compared with the soldier in battle that dies knowing that there was a high risk of death, but not certainty, one could say the distinction was not that great... but for me it is great enough... especially when targets are not other soldiers. Ah, but those targets of the suicide killer supported the soldier. Perhaps... perhaps they were only other members of the herd... weaker members... non-threatening members. My shortcuts won't let me accept the validity of the suicide killer's shortcuts... but I understand the premise... better a death well conceived than a life futilely spent.

Perhaps this is an example of the reason we go to war. Perhaps this is why those with the "absolute truth" on their side are the greatest danger to peace. Those that hold to "absolute truths" argue that our choice is that "if one does not assume objective truth and an intelligible world, one will find only doubt and meaninglessness". In other words, without an absolute truth (which we may never be able to prove, but which we know in our hearts... believe...) there is only nonsense.

Or maybe what there is, is the basic human drive for thousands of decades... to know more and to know better. Perhaps we may never prove what is absolutely true, but we may know better what is and should be... why some choices are functional and some dysfunctional.

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There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.
Henry Louis Mencken (1880–1956)
“The Divine Afflatus,” A Mencken Chrestomathy, chapter 25, p. 443 (1949)
... and one could add "not all human problems really are."
It was beautiful and simple, as truly great swindles are.
- O. Henry
... The Government is on course for an embarrassing showdown with the European Union, business groups and environmental charities after refusing to guarantee that billions of pounds of revenue it stands to earn from carbon-permit trading will be spent on combating climate change.
The Independent (UK)

Tracking Interest Rates

Tracking Interest Rates


SEARCH BLOG: FEDERAL RESERVE for full versions... or use the Blog Archive pulldown menu.

February 3, 2006
Go back to 1999-2000 and see what the Fed did. They are following the same pattern for 2005-06. If it ain't broke, the Fed will fix it... and good!
August 29, 2006 The Federal Reserve always acts on old information... and is the only cause of U.S. recessions.
December 5, 2006 Last spring I wrote about what I saw to be a sharp downturn in the economy in the "rustbelt" states, particularly Michigan.
March 28, 2007
The Federal Reserve sees no need to cut interest rates in the light of adverse recent economic data, Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday.
The Fed chairman said ”to date, the incoming data have supported the view that the current stance of policy is likely to foster sustainable economic growth and a gradual ebbing in core inflation”.

July 21, 2007 My guess is that if there is an interest rate change, a cut is more likely than an increase. The key variables to be watching at this point are real estate prices and the inventory of unsold homes.
August 11, 2007 I suspect that within 6 months the Federal Reserve will be forced to lower interest rates before housing becomes a black hole.
September 11, 2007 It only means that the overall process has flaws guaranteeing it will be slow in responding to changes in the economy... and tend to over-react as a result.
September 18, 2007 I think a 4% rate is really what is needed to turn the economy back on the right course. The rate may not get there, but more cuts will be needed with employment rates down and foreclosure rates up.
October 25, 2007 How long will it be before I will be able to write: "The Federal Reserve lowered its lending rate to 4% in response to the collapse of the U.S. housing market and massive numbers of foreclosures that threaten the banking and mortgage sectors."
"Should the elevated turbulence persist, it would increase the possibility of further tightening in financial conditions for households and businesses," he said.

"Uncertainties about the economic outlook are unusually high right now," he said. "These uncertainties require flexible and pragmatic policymaking -- nimble is the adjective I used a few weeks ago."

December 11, 2007 Somehow the Fed misses the obvious.
[Image from:]
December 13, 2007 [from The Christian Science Monitor]
"The odds of a recession are now above 50 percent," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's "We are right on the edge of a recession in part because of the Fed's reluctance to reduce interest rates more aggressively." [see my comments of September 11]
January 7, 2008 The real problem now is that consumers can't rescue the economy and manufacturing, which is already weakening, will continue to weaken. We've gutted the forces that could avoid a downturn. The question is not whether there will be a recession, but can it be dampened sufficiently so that it is very short.
January 11, 2008 This is death by a thousand cuts.
January 13, 2008 [N.Y. Times]
“The question is not whether we will have a recession, but how deep and prolonged it will be,” said David Rosenberg, the chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch. “Even if the Fed’s moves are going to work, it will not show up until the later part of 2008 or 2009.
January 17, 2008 A few days ago, Anna Schwartz, nonagenarian economist, implicated the Federal Reserve as the cause of the present lending crisis [from the Telegraph - UK]:
The high priestess of US monetarism - a revered figure at the Fed - says the central bank is itself the chief cause of the credit bubble, and now seems stunned as the consequences of its own actions engulf the financial system. "The new group at the Fed is not equal to the problem that faces it," she says, daring to utter a thought that fellow critics mostly utter sotto voce.
January 22, 2008 The cut has become infected and a limb is in danger. Ben Bernanke is panicking and the Fed has its emergency triage team cutting rates... this time by 3/4%. ...

What should the Federal Reserve do now? Step back... and don't be so anxious to raise rates at the first sign of economic improvement.
Individuals and businesses need stability in their financial cost structures so that they can plan effectively and keep their ships afloat. Wildly fluctuating rates... regardless of what the absolute levels are... create problems. Either too much spending or too much fear. It's just not that difficult to comprehend. Why has it been so difficult for the Fed?

About Me

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Michigan, United States
Air Force (SAC) captain 1968-72. Retired after 35 years of business and logistical planning, including running a small business. Two sons with advanced degrees; one with a business and pre-law degree. Beautiful wife who has put up with me for 4 decades. Education: B.A. (Sociology major; minors in philosopy, English literature, and German) M.S. Operations Management (like a mixture of an MBA with logistical planning)