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Christmas and Capitalism (not as unrelated as you may think) . . .
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I read an email the other day from one of my favorite economists, Brian Wesbury. I like him because he’s usually a contrarian, voicing opinions very different from most others, and he’s generally an optimist like me (though we seem to have almost gone “out of fashion” these past few years). I’ve copied Brian’s message below because it’s Christmas-related, and I think you’ll enjoy it:

Greedy Innkeeper or Generous Capitalist?

The Bible story of the virgin birth is at the center of much of the holiday cheer at this time of the year.  The book of Luke tells us Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem because Caesar Augustus decreed a census should be taken.  Mary gave birth after arriving in Bethlehem and placed baby Jesus in a manger because there was “no room for them in the inn.”

Over the centuries, people have come to believe that because Jesus was born in a stable, and not in a hotel room, Mary and Joseph must have been mistreated by a greedy innkeeper.  This innkeeper only cared about profits and decided this young couple was not “worth” his best accommodations.  This angle on the traditional story is repeated in just about every play, skit, or sermon on the subject.

These stories persist even though the Bible records no complaints at the time and there was apparently no charge for the use of the stable.  It may be that the stable was the only place available.  Bethlehem, like other small towns, was overflowing with people who were returning to their ancestral homes for the census, which was ordered by the Romans for the purpose of levying a tax.

If there was a problem, it was caused by the unintended consequences of government policy.  However, a political spin has been added to the story and it blames capitalism and capitalists for being greedy and uncaring, even evil.

A different narrative could be easily generated.  The innkeeper was generous to a fault – a hero even.  He was over-booked, but he charitably offered his stable, a building that would not have existed if it weren’t for his foresight and industriousness.  And don’t forget, the government officials who ordered the census slept in their own beds with little care for the wellbeing of those who had to travel regardless of their difficult life circumstances.

If you must find “evil” in either one of these narratives, remember that evil is ultimately perpetrated by individuals, not the institutions in which they operate.

And this is why it’s important to favor economic and political systems that limit the use and abuse of power over others.  In the story of baby Jesus, a law that requires innkeepers to always have extra rooms, or to take in anyone who asks, would “fix” the problem of the evil innkeeper.

This regulation, which would be enforced by government, would have unintended consequences.  Fewer people would become innkeepers because they would need to build larger structures (that could accommodate the crowd during a census).  But because censuses are rare, the innkeeper would be forced to charge higher prices to cover costs.  This, in turn, would cause many to complain that the innkeeper was greedy.

This does not mean that free markets are perfect or create utopia, they aren’t and they don’t.  But, business can’t force you to buy a service or product.  You have a choice – even if it’s not exactly what you want.  And good business people try to make you happy in creative and industrious ways.

Government doesn’t always care.  In fact, if you happen to live in North Korea or Cuba, and are not happy about the way things are going, you can’t leave.  And just in case you try, armed guards will help you think things through.
This is why the framers of the US Constitution made sure there were “checks and balances” in the system.  We’re now seeing that system operate.  In reaction to the health care bill passed earlier this year, voters rejected many of the bill’s supporters and boosted the clout of its opponents.  And the “new” majority favors lower taxes and less spending.

For many, this is not like having a savior.  But it should give us all reason to hope for a better world in the years ahead.

Merry Christmas, from all of us at Mercantile Capital Corporation!

Chris

P.S. If you or someone you know is interested in purchasing commercial property for a business, call me at 1-866-622-4504 or email me at ChrisHurn@MercantileCC.com right away. Right now is the best time to start this process, and we look forward to working with you and anyone else you refer to us.

P.P.S. We’ve recently re-designed our loan applications, which you can download at www.504Experts.com. They’re much more concise than our old applications, and they feature forms that let you type information directly on them on your computer.

P.P.P.S. We sincerely wish you all the Blessings this Season represents, regardless of your Faith. For us, this best expresses our sentiments:

“Glory to God in the highest Heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)

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20 Comments

  1. Don McClain says:

    Good Afternoon and Merry Christmas!

  2. Philip Banks says:

    Thank you for the message; however; the term smart economist is almost as much of an oxymoron as honest lawyer. Best wishes for the Holiday.

  3. Marlene Peasley says:

    Thanks for keeping me on your email list. I have very much enjoyed each one. We are still looking for something to come my way. Forever the eternal optimist, as you say “out of fashion”. If we were to all give up? Giving up is a defeatist attitude and we refuse to go there. Someone will be willing to take a chance with us we just know.

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours.

  4. Chris New says:

    Thank you

  5. Leo Thomas Hatch Jr. says:

    Happy holidays 2011

  6. SHELBY HOLLEY says:

    Chris, I did enjoy this message

  7. Dan Norwood says:

    You’re so typical of the Western Civilization’s point of view. Money is the primary aspect of your concern where as the Eastern Philophers put work ahead of money. Capitalism is for the relatively poor whereas socialism is for the rich but enough of this. Rome was an abhorant civilization and those who thrived in it either agreed with the government or were forced to abide by their laws under penalty of death – very similar to Nazis Germany. One could say that the Innkeeper took pity on Mary and Joseph because he was a believer in God. There was no capitalism during Roman times except for the Roman Government. Israel was under martial law and an occupied country at the time so capitalism had nothing to do with the Innkeepers pity. Christmas is not the time to discuss government it is a time for pagans to celebrate the winter solstice with Santa Clause and Christians to reflect on a time when Jesus (The son of God) was born. You cannot serve both God and Money. Capitalism is not the spirit of Christmas it is the spirit of Greed and to understand it as anything less means that you are losing the spirit of Christianity. There is nothing wrong with earning money – There is an inherent wrong in profiting from sales just for sales sake.

    • Chris Hurn says:

      I think you missed the point, Dan…and it was written not by me, but by Brian Wesbury. Neither he nor I were suggesting we should “serve Money,” nor do I think either of us do. We have a higher purpose in what we both do. And while we’re both “products” of Western civilization, any Eastern Philosophers that advocate socialism sort of miss the point, as well, of how it works in the Real World: it doesn’t. It doesn’t work because it’s predicated on everyone pulling their fair-share… and because that doesn’t happen in the Real World, that’s why it never works anywhere but in theory. Mr. Wesbury very clearly stated that capitalism isn’t perfect in his piece. Again, I think you sort of missed the point of his article and why I posted it.

  8. Dale Iurillo says:

    An interesting read. I believe the shift to remove God and Faith away from public awareness will be the downfall of our Great Nation ! If anyone has heard the story of our found fathers and realized what great sacrifice and courage these men undertook. A Note on the Signers of the
    Declaration of Independence
    by Matthew Spalding

    “…we mutually pledge to each other our Lives,
    our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

    Fifty-six individuals from each of the original 13 colonies participated in the Second Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence. Pennsylvania sent nine delegates to the congress, followed by Virginia with seven and Massachusetts and New Jersey with five. Connecticut, Maryland, New York, and South Carolina each sent four delegates. Delaware, Georgia, New Hampshire, and North Carolina each sent three. Rhode Island, the smallest colony, sent only two delegates to Philadelphia.

    Nine of the signers were immigrants, two were brothers, two were cousins, and one was an orphan. The average age of a signer was 45. The oldest delegate was Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, who was 70 when he signed the Declaration. The youngest was Thomas Lynch, Jr., of South Carolina, who was 27.

    Eighteen of the signers were merchants or businessmen, 14 were farmers, and four were doctors. Forty-two signers had served in their colonial legislatures. Twenty-two were lawyers — although William Hooper of North Carolina was “disbarred” when he spoke out against the Crown — and nine were judges. Stephen Hopkins had been Governor of Rhode Island.

    Although two others had been clergy previously, John Witherspoon of New Jersey was the only active clergyman to attend — he wore his pontificals to the sessions. Almost all were Protestant Christians; Charles Carroll of Maryland was the only Roman Catholic signer.

    Seven of the signers were educated at Harvard, four each at Yale and William & Mary, and three at Princeton. John Witherspoon was the president of Princeton and George Wythe was a professor at William & Mary, where his students included the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson.

    Seventeen of the signers served in the military during the American Revolution. Thomas Nelson was a colonel in the Second Virginia Regiment and then commanded Virginia military forces at the Battle of Yorktown. William Whipple served with the New Hampshire militia and was one of the commanding officers in the decisive Saratoga campaign. Oliver Wolcott led the Connecticut regiments sent for the defense of New York and commanded a brigade of militia that took part in the defeat of General Burgoyne. Caesar Rodney was a Major General in the Delaware militia and John Hancock was the same in the Massachusetts militia.

    Five of the signers were captured by the British during the war. Captains Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, and Arthur Middleton (South Carolina) were all captured at the Battle of Charleston in 1780; Colonel George Walton was wounded and captured at the Battle of Savannah. Richard Stockton of New Jersey never recovered from his incarceration at the hands of British Loyalists and died in 1781.

    Colonel Thomas McKean of Delaware wrote John Adams that he was “hunted like a fox by the enemy — compelled to remove my family five times in a few months, and at last fixed them in a little log house on the banks of the Susquehanna . . . and they were soon obliged to move again on account of the incursions of the Indians.” Abraham Clark of New Jersey had two of his sons captured by the British during the war. The son of John Witherspoon, a major in the New Jersey Brigade, was killed at the Battle of Germantown.

    Eleven signers had their homes and property destroyed. Francis Lewis’s New York home was destroyed and his wife was taken prisoner. John Hart’s farm and mills were destroyed when the British invaded New Jersey and he died while fleeing capture. Carter Braxton and Thomas Nelson (both of Virginia) lent large sums of their personal fortunes to support the war effort, but were never repaid.

    Fifteen of the signers participated in their states’ constitutional conventions, and six — Roger Sherman, Robert Morris, Benjamin Franklin, George Clymer, James Wilson, and George Reed –signed the United States Constitution. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts attended the federal convention and, though he later supported the document, refused to sign the Constitution.

    After the Revolution, 13 of the signers went on to become governors, and 18 served in their state legislatures. Sixteen became state and federal judges. Seven became members of the United States House of Representatives, and six became United States Senators. James Wilson and Samuel Chase became Justices of the United States Supreme Court.

    Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Elbridge Gerry each became Vice President, and John Adams and Thomas Jefferson became President. The sons of signers John Adams and Benjamin Harrison also became Presidents.

    Five signers played major roles in the establishment of colleges and universities: Benjamin Franklin and the University of Pennsylvania; Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia; Benjamin Rush and Dickinson College; Lewis Morris and New York University; and George Walton and the University of Georgia.

    John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Charles Carroll were the longest surviving signers. Adams and Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Charles Carroll of Maryland was the last signer to die — in 1832 at the age of 95.

    LET US ALL DO OUR PART TO INSURE OUR NATIONS FREEDOM REMAINS !
    Merry Christmas to all from Midwest Home Investors ! Dale

    ——————————————————————————–

    This article is courtesy of The Heritage Foundation.

    Sources: Robert Lincoln, Lives of the Presidents of the United States, with Biographical Notices of the

    • Chris Hurn says:

      Thank you, Dale. I’m well aware of this and have read it many times. Thanks for sharing it with others. Merry Christmas!

  9. Chris Hurn says:

    I don’t necessary disagree with you, Philip. 🙂

  10. Jack Campbell says:

    CHRIS U ARE ABSOLUTELY CORRECT ON BUYING RIGHT NOW AND BUILD UP UR PORTFOLIO THAT’S WERE A LOT OF PEOPLE MESS UP AND MISS THIS GREAT OPPORTUNITY TO BUY NOW!!

    THESE ARE THE PEOPLE THAT ARE GOING TO BE SITTING ON A LITTLE GOLD MINED OF REAL ESTATE AND WILL COME OUT A HERO AND A SMART BUSINESS VENTURE INVESTOR!!

    THANKS AGAIN, JACK C

  11. Steven says:

    I guess we can contrast Brian’s flawed view of the HC bill, with run amok deregulated Capitalism that led to the worst recession in a generation.
    I view politics/government/capitalism somewhat like a professional football or basketball game, where we have an amazing collection of talented athletes and coaches working together to win games for themselves and their fans (capitalism).
    There is also oversight provided by league administrators, which includes voices of all stakeholders, to provide a general environment of stability (government).
    They, in turn, hire refs to insure that the game on the field is played fairly, guided by carefully written and thought out sets of rules (courts and gov administrations).
    Balance is the key word: The goal is to provide an environment conducive to cultivating those skills and promote excitement while not creating so much regulation that it stifles creativity and destroys the rhythm of the game.
    On one hand, fans pay premium dollars to watch these athletes be free as possible to do the amazing things they do. I have incredible memories of top college and professional athletes doing those amazing things.
    On the other hand, too much deregulation, or regulations written by the most powerful players with only their self interest in mind promotes policies that undermines those talents, gives unfair advantages to some or allows players to succumb to temptation, cheap shots or dirty tricks. This leads to unfair or unethical behavior that hurts other players, other teams and harms the game, the excitement, and ultimately, the value of the sport for all involved.
    Through careful process, leagues have achieved parity. And while some teams may dominate for a season or two, over time different teams who use their resources wisely share time at the top.
    It is clear that over the last 30 years, through UNfair process, wealth has migrated to fewer and fewer companies or individuals. This zero sum game means that the middle class has increasingly borne the brunt of this migration of wealth.
    The proof lies, again, in the worst recession in most of our lifetimes, the accumulation of wealth and prosperity by very few while the rest of society struggles, and the reason given by captains of banking and industry for sluggish growth as “sluggish demand.”
    Sluggish demand “is” the middle class who have been punished by overenthusiastic or self indulgent deregulation
    Until Warren Buffet’s revelation that his maid and secretary pay a higher marginal tax than he does is corrected, we can expect only more “sluggish demand” and concomitant sluggish economic growth.
    Summary: Trickle down has been “weighed and measured and found wanting.” The rules and the field have been tilted too far for too long in favor of trickle down. It’s time to balance trickle-down with some trickle up. It’s time for America to be able to, as George Bush said after 911, “go shopping;” 2/3rds of our economic engine.
    This is the purpose of the HC reform bill and the requirement that Americans purchase insurance: While limiting unfair advantages of insurance companies and in order to control spiraling and game/economy breaking HC costs, the failure of some to not plan for their welfare must not constitute or allow the imposition of their eventual crises upon those who do plan and play by the rules.

    • Chris Hurn says:

      Steven —

      Where do I start?

      Balance is fine, but what goes unsaid so often behind “equal opportunity does not mean equal outcome” is that those that “hustle” accomplish. The rest get in their 4 hours of TV watching nightly. The fact is: we’ve become like ancient Rome — a society that likes their luxuries. That’s all fine and good, but if you want to succeed monetarily, then you’ve got to get off your butt and out-work others (on the “right” things). If you work hard and smart, you can still accomplish a LOT in this county. You need look no further than the annual Forbes 400 ranking of wealthiest Americans to see how disruptive capitalism really can be: the list churns over almost completely every 6 to 10 years. Very few people understand that this is a perfect example of “equal opportunity” NOT “equal outcome” at work. It is also an example of the adaptive surviving and thriving, but that’s a principle for another day.

      Regarding the healthcare bill: it is fundamentally un-American BECAUSE it imposes something on us (obviously, the judge in VA agrees with me on this). It takes away our choice (or penalizes us if we choose “wrongly” according to some regulator somewhere in some cubicle). Americans are a very charitable bunch — we outpace the citizens/subjects of all other countries combined with our charitable giving. So, if the healthcare bill was about helping the truly “less fortunate,” fine. But it wasn’t. It was about imposition… about infringing on our liberty… about expanding government because some feel we must “rely” on government more than on ourselves. That’s why it’s so unpopular, by the way. It goes against the very notions that were at the heart of this nation’s founding (“life,” liberty, and the PURSUIT of happiness” — not the mandating of happiness). Many people won’t articulate it in quite this way, but they instinctively understand that this is what is wrong with Obamacare.

      At the end of the day, we have a philosophical disagreement here: I believe people should be given more (not less) freedoms to succeed, but also to fail. You want to “coddle” them more because we must protect those “that don’t plan” or who don’t work as hard and in the right ways (my words). I am for the supremacy of the individual; you are arguing for the supremacy of the group. To claim that some still “play by the rules,” yet are left out is to over-simplify things. The “rules” to success (monetarily-speaking) are all in the open, not hidden — anyone can achieve it. That’s the true blessing that we’ve been given. The more we strangle them (by those who supposedly “know” better), the more we destroy liberty and hinder our pursuit of happiness. We are accountable for our actions, not some bureaucrat. We need to teach our children about responsibility, not about “equal outcome” and “everyone wins.” Everyone doesn’t — it is a fact of life — no one claims that life is fair. We need to ween our citizens off their government dependence. We are created by God to have free will — to make our own choices and to live with them. We should not create a government that imposes on that. We can take care of the truly down-trodden, but for everyone else the “secrets” are all visible… we just need to understand it will take some effort.

      • Steven says:

        Balance is the heart of my thesis: equal opportunity. It seems we actually do agree, however a fair playing field it has NOT been and is not currently; in terms of taxes, insurance and trading/investing. I have and am providing proof. Moreover, I am FOR an economic environment that promotes working hard AND working smart. I teach that working hard, many times, is not enough. One must also work smart, which includes a little thoughtfulness and forsight (planning), and if done well, helps fortune to smile more brightly upon us.
        What individuals do with a level playing field is their concern. I do not argue against their initiative and industry. Moreover, I argued FOR a game that promotes their freedom to maximize their skillz and opportunities.
        One of my key points: fans want to see athletes be as free as possible to do those amazing things = free market.
        But I’m also against unregulated trading that permitted Enron and AIG to nearly bring down California and our national economy and anti-trust exemption loopholes for large insurance companies that allow them to collude and charge ever higher premiums, copays, and deductables. The same rising copays, premiums, and deductables that anti-government interests bitterly complain about.
        The results speaks for themselves: Out of control HC “insurance costs” that are on track to destroy our economy and loss of HC insurance for millions, which is the single biggest cause of bankruptcy in our nation and costs billions+ in lost productivity.
        When over 44 million, many of them HARD WORKING Americans cannot pay for insurance and 38 million Americans are underinsured, (nearly 1/3 of all Americans), not because because they are all lazy or stupid, there is something fundamentally wrong with the way the insurance industry has NOT met America’s need for affordable HC. The 800lb gorilla in the room is because of “unequal opportunity” / abuses by the insurance industry and that dam recession that was largely caused by run amok greed and serial deregulation over several decades.
        Moreover, I concluded that the whole/the group should NOT have to pay (as they are NOW paying) for those that squander their resources. Keeping in mind that the insurance mandate originally came FROM the insurance industry/ capitalist interests.
        The current policies cleary have not worked for the reasons given, therefore I defer to the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over that not only has NOT worked, but is extremely harmful to our country and our economy, and expecting a different outcome.

      • Chris hurn says:

        Just thought of something else rather succiently (and paraphrasing Ms. Thatcher):

        A government big enough to promise everything to everybody must eventually try to confiscate everything everybody has. Sooner or later, a socialist government runs out of everybody else’s money.

        That’s why government needs to shrink — it does NOT need to expand.

        • Steven says:

          it seems goldman sachs, Exxon, BP, Halliburton and the insurance industry was there first and cleaned out the vault.
          By the time the government got there, the cupboard was bare.

          • Steven says:

            which brings us back to my original thesis: an honest and fair “balance” between capitalism and regulation / government.

  12. Diane Roehrig says:

    Thank you, Chris for sharing. This is such a good example of the principles of free markets, especially for those of us that have financed hospitality projects.

  13. Steven Fisher says:

    Thank You, Chris, for a lively discussion yesterday.
    Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year

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