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Isaac Morehouse


Isaac Morehouse is the CEO of Crash, the career launch platform, and the founder of Praxis, a startup apprenticeship program. Isaac is dedicated to the relentless pursuit of freedom. He’s written some books, done some podcasting, and is always experimenting with self-directed living and learning.

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Drugs and Church


A post I wrote about two years ago for the Western Standard:

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My wife and I were visiting a new place for Sunday morning service this week and I couldn’t help but be disturbed yet again at the tendency of Christians to mistake political for spiritual accomplishments.

The pastor told a story about a small church that is located in a “rough” neighborhood. Some parishioners were on the corner outside the church praying for the area when they ran into some drug dealers (I’m not sure how the churchgoers knew them to be drug dealers). The dealers told the prayers, “This is our corner” and the interceding churchmen replied, “No, this corner belongs to Jesus”. The pastor said one of the drug dealers was visibly moved and walked away saying, “this isn’t right what we’re doing. I’m going home”. The rest of the drug dealers stood their ground, so the church members retreated back into the church. So far, an interesting story.

Then, the pastor told us, the police showed up and arrested the remaining drug dealers on the street corner. Everyone listening to the story started clapping and shouting “amen”. The pastor used the story to illustrate the effectiveness of prayer, and the transforming power of the church located in the rough neighborhood.

This was all rather unsettling to me and my wife and as we discussed on our way home. Combined with the abysmal performance of the Detroit Lions, it put a bit of a damper on my day.

The part of the story where one drug dealer felt some kind of conviction and went home was interesting. The faith and words of the Christians on the corner apparently got him thinking deeply about his life. But what about those arrested by police? What victory is there for the church in that? There was no mention of any violent acts by these men. There wasn’t even mention of a violation of property rights (it was never clear if the corner was part of church property). There was only an assumption that these men were somehow “bad” and therefore their arrest was somehow “good” for the neighborhood, and ostensibly the Kingdom of God.

But how did this event advance the Kingdom of God? Is not the point of the Kingdom to transform lives? Is not the point to demonstrate the power of Christ to forgive and to move individuals to break free from the bondage of sin and embrace His forgiveness and live freely and righteously? What did this confrontation and arrest do for these men to help them see their need for freedom in Christ, if indeed they were in need?

Moreover, what grounds is there to cheer “amen” at the arrest of these men? It betrays a notion that runs deep in the church; that political action is analogous to spiritual action.

This same conflation was demonstrated some years ago when members of my church collected petition signatures sufficient to force a strip club to move from downtown to a location outside of town. This was touted as a victory. But in spiritual terms, who won? Did any of the petition signers go down and offer hope and freedom to the men in bondage to sexual addiction? Did they offer comfort and companionship to any of the strippers who were, purportedly, desperate for money and approval? Was a single soul set free? Did the patrons of the establishment have a new respect for Christians after seeing them forcibly remove the business from town? If anything, it set the stage for a more hostile relationship between strippers and patrons of the strip club and Christians. Banning sinful behavior by force of law is no signal to sinners that they can come to the church for freedom and aid.

Christ did not behave this way. Even when given the chance to use the laws of the day to punish a prostitute, He instead offered her grace and left her to make the choice on her own. He did not petition to hide sinful behavior from His sight, but spent much of His time hanging out with the least reputable sinners of society. He offered them hope and escape from damaging behavior, not prison.

When Christians look to laws of man to accomplish goals of the Kingdom they distort and corrupt both. All earthly governments are based on force. The Kingdom of God is based on love, freely given and freely received or rejected. Even the despotic, egotistical, and violent Napoleon saw this clear distinction in his last days exiled on the Island of St. Helena:

“Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I myself have founded great empires; but upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love…”

Why does the church so often fail to see what Napoleon understood? His Kingdom is truly, “not of this world”, and we shouldn’t reduce it to the activities and tools of earthly kingdoms – force, fraud, pomp, and patriotism.

Good Ideas Can Overcome Bad Incentives


An article I had published for the Freeman Online:

Ideas vs. Interests

Imagine a billboard that says, “Kicking chickens creates prosperity.”

The billboard is part of a campaign sponsored by the Partnership for a Chicken-Free America.  This group is made up of people who have an extreme dislike for chickens, and they are willing to put vast resources into reducing the well-being of chickens.  In fact, they advocate legislation to establish national Kick-A-Chick Day.

Most voters and members of the general public do not share this distaste for chickens as a species.  Then again, most people are relatively indifferent when it comes to chicken happiness. With a few exceptions, it is not in an individual’s interest to spend resources on a counter-campaign or to hire lobbyists to oppose the Kick-A-Chick bill; the costs of doing so simply outweigh the benefits.

This is a classic case of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs.  The anti-chicken people derive tremendous happiness from harm to chickens, making their campaign a worthwhile expenditure.  Yet the general public gains little from preventing chicken kicking and the cost of opposing it is very high.

On the other hand, the public loves prosperity.  If they believed that punting hens created wealth, there is little reason to suspect they would not support the policy.  A public-awareness campaign would be just the ticket.

Armed with Public Choice theory we can see the sad but likely result.  The chicken-free association will exert its influence and get its bill.  The public will either support what they believe to be a prosperity-creating policy or ignore it altogether because the cost of fighting is too high.  The interests align in such a way that we can expect the anti-bird forces to prevail.

Of course this story is absurd and such a law would never be introduced, let alone pass.  What makes it so obviously impossible?

Ideas.

People know there is no causal connection between kicking a chicken and enjoying a higher standard of living.  That knowledge makes the campaign laughable.  Regardless of how the interests are aligned, if people are educated enough to know that chicken kicking does not equal prosperity such absurd policy will not be proposed, much less enacted.

Bus Conversion

Yesterday I saw a sign on the side of a bus which I found no less absurd.  It read, “Converting buses creates jobs.  What are we waiting for?”  The ad was sponsored by a “clean air” association, which no doubt comprises members of the natural gas industry and people for whom a reduction in fossil fuel use would bring some great pleasure.

Just like our chicken story, the incentives are aligned so that the benefits of bus-conversion mandates to the members of this small group exceed the cost of their advocacy efforts, while the benefits to individual citizens of stopping the mandates do not exceed the cost of opposition.  As far as incentives go, the situation seems pretty dire.

Unlike our chicken story, most people do not know there is no magical or “free” job-creation when government mandates bus conversions.  The resources used to convert the buses must be taken from somewhere, and it is as likely as not they there are many other jobs destroyed or never created in the first place when the resources are redirected.  Furthermore, most people do not know that there is no causal connection between more jobs and more prosperity or a higher standard of living.  In fact, if a government mandate creates jobs, it is likely it does so precisely because it is destroying wealth by moving it from more-productive to less-productive (and more labor intensive) uses.

This is actually good news.

It means things are less hopeless than pure Public Choice theory might suggest.  Bad incentives can be overcome by good ideas.  In our chicken story it was clear that interests alone were insufficient to enact policy.  Knowledge of the policy’s incoherence trumped the incentive structure.  With a grasp of basic economics people may find the sign on the bus just as laughable as the idea of Kick-A-Chick Day.

Special interests can do much to destroy liberty given the incentive structure in our political system.  Indeed, with an ignorant populace there is little they cannot do.  But even the most powerful interests ultimately answer to the ideas held by a majority of citizens.  Policy follows the path blazed by belief.

Mises stated this plainly in Human Action: “What determines the course of a nation’s economic policies is always the economic ideas held by public opinion. No government whether democratic or dictatorial can free itself from the sway of the generally accepted ideology.”

That is why FEE has tirelessly educated individuals on economic principles for these many years.  That is why we must continue our educational efforts, no matter how frustrating it may sometimes be.

When we succeed, interest groups and their ploys will be shown to be just as ridiculous as the Partnership for a Chicken-Free America.

True European Values


Here's a letter I had published in the Washington Post:

French President Nicolas Sarkozy claims that banning burqas would uphold traditional European values. Unless he is referring to the values of a few infamous European dictators, he could not be more mistaken.

The bedrock of European cultural and political traditions is liberalism. A true liberal understands that the use of force, by which all government edicts are ultimately backed, is neither an effective nor moral means of promoting values. Banning an expression of religious conviction in the name of protecting a liberal culture is the stuff of satire.

Force is the tool of those who lack the competence or courage to peacefully persuade.

Isaac M. Morehouse, Falls Church

Senseless Census Ads


I have a short article in the Freeman Online today about the stupid U.S. Census ads claiming they need data to make decisions about how many buses or hospital beds a community needs.  The two main points are:

1) In a market, you don't need a census to tell you how many goods to provide.

2) Without a market, you won't know how many goods to provide even with a census.  From the article,

"Has the grocer ever run ads claiming that without your household survey, he won’t know how much food to stock?"

And,

"They cannot know how many hospital beds or buses to provide without population data.  The dirty little secret is that they cannot know how many hospital beds or buses to provide with population data either."

Read the rest here.

Should We Let Things Get So Bad They Finally Get Better?


A snippet I wrote for the March 2010 issue of Liberty Magazine in the Reflections section under the title "Story Time":

I’ve heard people say that the only way to achieve a truly free society is to let things get so bad that they finally get better. If we hit rock bottom and live in a fully socialist world people will see how bad it is and realize how much better a free economy would be. They will not have to struggle to understand the unseen because they will be living in the world that free-market advocates warned against. People will embrace liberty only after learning the hard way.

I wish to dispel that idea. This strategy would be disastrous, for two reasons.

First, there is no guarantee we will hit rock bottom. The city of Detroit has been in an economic freefall for 50 years. I’ve heard many times that the city can fall no farther and its bloated government will have to loosen its grip. As far as I can tell, the city is still in freefall.

There are countries that have been mired in socialist mediocrity or worse for decades and show few signs of a free-market revolution. Apparently they haven’t hit bottom either.

Second, if things actually did bottom out, there is no guarantee that people would understand why. After the stock and housing markets tanked in 2008, was there a general awareness of the failures of central banking and interventionism? Was the response a swift move toward a freer market? Government created the crisis, yet there was little agreement among Americans about whom to blame and what to do next.

Few see a cause-effect relationship between government activity and the Great Depression. When they do see such a relationship, it’s often that of reverse causality; they believe intervention cured rather than caused the depression.

Waiting to hit rock bottom is not the key to a classical-liberal resurgence. What is?

Narrative.

Whether you think the future is bright or dim, no favorable long-term change will occur unless we tell the right story.

Most narratives place the blame for crises on free markets. The story during the Great Depression was that capitalism had failed. With a few notable exceptions, it was only many years after the histories had been written that alternative explanations entered the discussion. How many bad policies were (and still are) enacted because of false narratives of the Depression?

Shaping narrative is more important than winning policy battles. A good policy in which the public has no faith will be charged with crimes it did not commit. A bad policy which the public loves will be credited with successes it did not achieve. Policy follows paths blazed by belief.

I do not believe we are headed for rock bottom. Market liberals have been in the limelight with the right story about the financial crisis. They may not have the loudest voices, but they have discredited simplistic antimarket explanations and forced further discussion.

But even if we are on a death spiral toward socialism, the only way back is clear and continuous communication of the causal connection between intervention and economic stagnation. Only if people hear the correct narrative on the way down will they know why they hit bottom and how to climb out.

In my weaker moments I think I’d love to see socialists live in the world their policies would create. But as long as I have to share that world, I don’t want to let it happen. Neither should you. Tell the right story.

Isaac Morehouse


Isaac Morehouse is the founder and CEO of Praxis, a startup apprenticeship program making degrees irrelevant for careers. Isaac is dedicated to the relentless pursuit of freedom. He’s written some books, done some podcasting, and is always experimenting with self-directed living and learning.

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