The Catholic Church, The Fall of Communism and Now Facebook

Ever the economist, my return to my Catholic roots began with Pope John Paul II and his crusade against communism.  His forceful stance on what seemed like an economic issue peaked my interest to learn more.  Of course, communism is about more than economics since it also seeks to sever man’s relationship with God–which never ends well, for man at least.

Yet, Pope John Paul II would not have succeeded were it not for his own blend of public outreach that allowed his message to spread beyond his own flock–granted a billion people is nothing to sneeze at.  So it is encouraging to see Pope Benedict XVI continuing his predecessors outreach through the internet.  The church’s first attempt at the Vatican website is more of information repository than anything else.  But now the Vatican has embraced Facebook and, as an extension, Youtube (see video below).

I’ve always thought it would be fascinating to examine the church’s economic teachings through an Austrian framework.  There are quite a few Papal Encyclicals on the subject.  For instance, Pope John Paul II wrote Laborem Exercens in 1981 reflecting on the spirituality of human work.  Which, in turn, is an extension of Rerum Novarum (on capital and labor) by Pope Leo XIII delivered in 1891.

Perhaps I will explore this topic further in the future . . . if there is any interest out there please let me know in the comments.

Can Bitcoin Help Defeat the Wealth Alchemist

A couple of weeks ago I came across this Bitcoin idea (see video below).  But, it wasn’t until I read an article in this week’s Economist magazine that featured Bitcoin that I decided to take a closer look.  I’ve long wondered whether or not technology would be able to keep Wealth Alchemist at bay and I was heartened by this quote from the Economist:

Legally, Bitcoin exchanges are subject to the same regulations as ones trading commodities. For example, an exchange must report any transaction above $15,000, a policy meant to stem money laundering. For the purposes of taxation, meanwhile, reimbursing somebody for a product or service in BitCoins is treated as barter. The tax code makes provisions for such practices, though, admittedly, they can be tough to enforce.

This has not stopped some American politicians from expressing grave concern about the virtual currency. Charles Schumer, a prominent Democratic senator, has inveighed against it, claiming it is just what drug dealers have been waiting for. All the clever cryptography means Bitcoin dealings are difficult to trace. But not impossible.  According to Bitcoin’s defenders, its users may be more difficult for a government agency to pinpoint than someone paying with a credit card. But they are easier to catch than those using cash.

Moreover, any drug trade involves sending physical products to recipients. Authorities already track many packages sent by groups under investigation. When it comes to physical delivery, the method of payment is irrelevant. Another worry, for the authorities at least, is that, in theory, a Bitcoin account cannot be frozen. But, like cash, Bitcoins can be nabbed by seizing the computer on which they are stored.

I’m sure that Sen. Schumer concerns about Bitcoin extend to more than just drug dealers using it, but rather that ordinary folks may use it to escape the prying eyes of government . . . especially the Internal Revenue Service.  That would sends chills up the spines of Wealth Alchemists everywhere.

Admittedly, it seems I am a bit late to the party when it comes to Bitcoin.  Yet, as an Austrian economist, I’m fascinated by the opportunities the web brings to witness the evolution of alternative institutional arrangements in a rather quick fashion.  It also doesn’t hurt that Bitcoin is also operating in a area that Austrians feel have been manipulated by government, for their own benefit, for far too long–currency.

As such, I’m going to delve into this Bitcoin phenomena to see if Austrian theory is in any way useful to understanding its evolution.  Perhaps Bitcoin, like many of its predecessors, flames out or maybe it finally hits on the right recipe for success.  In either case, it will be educational to watch and I’ll do so publicly via Wealth Alchemy when I find something interesting.

However, my attempts to understand the Bitcoin economy from an Austrian perspective will be limited by my ability to practically participate.  Put simply, I need my own Bitcoins.  You will notice in the top, right-hand corner a “Bitcoin Plus Miner” widget that will allow you, the reader, to add computing power in my quest to mine Bitcoins.  Simply hit the “start” button and a mining we will go.  It will not slow down your computer as it uses only spare capacity, but if you have concerns check this out at the Bitcoin Plus website.

Of course, being an economist I don’t expect you would do this out of the kindness of your own heart.  So, I’ve activated a portion of the program that will give you a kick-back on any of the Bitcoins you create–note that you will have to open an account at Bitcoin Plus to retrieve them.  If I understand the code correctly, it looks like a 30 percent kick-back.  With Bitcoin Plus taking 15 percent, I’m netting 55 percent.  Definitely not a “get rich quick” scheme 🙂

I’ve already been Bitcoin mining at the Bitcoin Plus website and, with about 8 hours run-time, I’ve mined 0.001106 Bitcoins.  According to Bitcoin Plus, one Bitcoin has been worth about $7 so I’ve earned about eight-tenths of one penny (rounding up).  I’ll keep you updated on my Bitcoin progress as my computer pretty much runs 24-7 anyways so I might as well use the down-time in some productive manner.

For liberty’s sake, let’s hope this works out . . . we don’t need any more “Quantitative Easing” bailouts.

Economist Walter Williams and His New Book

George Mason University economist Walter Williams recently released his new autobiography, Up From the Projects.  This sure does bring back memories for me.  In fact, I would have never gone to graduate school at GMU were it not for Walter Williams.  I heard him on the radio subbing for Rush Limbaugh one day and that’s when I decided that GMU was for me.  It was the only school I even applied to.

Naturally, I made sure I took his micro course right out of the gate my very semester.  Not only was his class awesome, but, more importantly, I also met my future wife for the first time in his class.  She has a funny story about that . . . but you’ll have to ask her to get it 🙂

Hat tip to Coordination Problem

Mark Skousen’s Top Ten Articles and New Gold Standard Book

I received this list from Mark Skousen in my inbox today.  I will definitely be adding these articles to my bed-time reading pile.  Also, his new book on the gold standard is a must read.  The gold standard is one of the best ways known to man to keep Wealth Alchemist at bay.

Here’s a list of my favorite articles that I’ve written over the years. I hope you enjoy them, too!

1. Lin Yutang and the Art of Letting Go

2. My Friendly Fights with Milton Friedman

3. Easy Living: My Two Years in the Bahamas

4. Atlas Shrugged: 50 Years Later

5. Weighing the Golden Heroes of the Gilded Age

6. Brother, Can You Spare a Decade?

7. The Necessary Evil

8. The Other Austrian

9. Benjamin Franklin and His Critics

10. Consumer Spending Doesn’t Drive the Economy

11. Me and Bill Buckley: A True Story (okay, make it 11!)

Great News! Just released:  A new 4th edition of “The Economics of a Pure Gold Standard,” with a new introduction, by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE).  This edition tells why more central banks fear the dollar as a reserve currency and are buying gold. To obtain a copy, go to amazon: Only $12 plus S&H.