The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

ON FAITH AND COMMON SENSE

I still remember the question that was posed in catechism – “What is faith?” I also remember the answer. “Faith is an outward and visible sign of an inward invisible grace.”

I guess the most meaningful way I can explain this is to say, “By their works you shall know them.”

Mom was a person of faith – and a person who approached life in a common-sensical way. I will never forget her explanation of how she was able to combine the two – without depriving either component of its own worth.

As she put it to me one day, “You can be in a pitch dark room on a day when the sun is shining brightly outside. The room is dark because there are blinds shuttering the window and in front of the blinds there are heavy drapes which have been pulled shut. Because you are a devout person, you are there, kneeling before the window, praying fervently that God let light into the room. He won’t. The reason for that is that God gave you the intelligence to get up off your knees, pull back the drapes and raise the blinds and let the light shine into the room.”

I understood her explanation and I didn’t see any conflict between faith and common sense in this case – or generally. But for those of you have come to believe that faith is something that only the weak rely on let me offer a suggestion. We are all people of faith – at least when it comes to economics.

When you go grocery shopping, to the hair stylist or fill up at the pump and hand over one of those crisp Benjamin Franklin hundred dollars bills, you have faith that the merchant is going to accept it in payment for the goods or services you have chosen. The merchant is herself a person of faith, because she believes that she can take that piece of paper and pass it to someone else who also will accept it for her purchases.

As long as we all have faith in that piece of paper it will continue to be used as a unit of exchange. But it is, after all, nothing more than a piece of paper with some fancy printing and engraving on it. Is it common sense to put so much faith in something that inherently has only the value we are willing to place on it?

You’ll forgive me but part of my training was in economics – also known as the “dismal science.” It’s also been said that, “An economist is a person who can explain everything and predict nothing.” So having made that disclosure let me add that the other part of my training was in history – which requires me to predict nothing but merely observe the lessons that the past can offer. So let’s take a brief look at history.

Every great nation in the history of the world has ultimately met its demise for one simple reason – it began to debase its currency. They didn’t need the siege of barbarians at their gates. They did it to themselves.

Whether it was the Roman Empire that began to lower the precious metal content in its coinage and say it was the same coin as before or the United States today, whose currency is no longer backed by either silver or gold as it once was, the parallels are unmistakable to those who think about them. We are finding new and creative (though not original ways) to debase our currency and mask the fact that we are headed to the same inevitable conclusion that befell the Roman emperors.

Alexander Hamilton, who appears on our ten dollar bills was notable in his opposition to paper money – calling for our new country to have a currency based on something of value – specifically gold or silver. He was voted down in his opposition.

Nothing much has changed in the last two hundred years. Except that we are at a critical juncture. Shall we finally approach our fiscal woes on the basis of common sense? Or shall we continue our dependence on faith?

 

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