Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Way back in the tall grass, last night I called home
I walked down to the rail yard in the misty grey dawn
Heaven showed me her mercy, threw my bag inside
From the Old Number Seven I watched the sunrise

I hear that bull coming, I pray he takes heed
My visions of mother are all that I see
That bull up in Cleveland gave me a broke arm
Dear Lord, let him spare me – I wish him no harm

My breath full of cinders, the wind blows me cold
The sounds of that freight train in my body are old
For twenty-three years now I’ve not seen my home
Tomorrow is Christmas and she’s all alone

Sunny Carolina, I’m wishing her back
‘Cross two thousand miles of standard gauge track
One last sip of whiskey to warm these old bones
We’ve just hit Kentucky and daylight I’m home

Sam Quinn (Benton, Tennessee – near Old Hop’s Hideout)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

An Inexpensive Christmas Gift Idea

Old Man Sam Ward’s History of the Gee-Haw Whimmy-Diddle

some folks say
the injuns made ‘em
like lie-detectors
called ‘em
hoo-doo sticks

in Salisbury, Noth Caylini
made the first
whimmy-diddle I seen

I whittle seven
kind: thisuns king
size, thisuns jumbo, thisuns
extry large

here’s a single, here’s one
double, here’s a triple and why right here
here’s a forked ‘un

been whittlin’ whimmy-diddles come
ten year, I reckon you’d
care to see my other toys,
boys, I got some fine
flipper-dingers, fly-
killers and bug-roarers, I can

kill a big fly at 60 feet

watch here

Jonathan Williams (Asheville, North Carolina, 1929 - )

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Lesson

Our oldest son David is eager to read Henry Hazlitt’s book, Economics in One Lesson. The “one lesson” expounded therein is summarized by Art Carden:
If we are going to evaluate policies — whether they be policies enacted by governments, corporations, institutions, or individuals — we have to look at how those policies affect everyone, not just favored constituencies or select groups (emphasis added).
David is an industrious 14 year-old who already has a part-time job in a fabric warehouse. Expensive, imported fabrics are brought to the facility where our young man rolls them onto bolts and prepares them for shipping to retailers. When asked about his job, David jokes that he is “employed in the textile industry.” He doesn’t like the job particularly – it requires demanding, physical labor. But he loves receiving his wages and making deposits into his credit union account. He is dreaming of his first car, and the freedom to drive himself to bigger and better jobs down the road.

But he did something recently that a 14 year-old is prone to do – he lost one of his paychecks. That placed him in the awkward position of approaching his employer, explaining what had happened and asking if the lost check could be canceled and a new one issued. David knew the risk: the possibility that his employer’s opinion of his trustworthiness would be diminished by his carelessness.

At the dinner table we discussed the vulnerable position young workers like David are in. In the current economic “downturn” (actually, a necessary market correction), the first employees to be terminated in small businesses are typically the younger, minimum wage earners. Carl Menger’s principle of diminishing utility comes into play: an employer will part with his least valuable assets in the first stages of reducing hard costs. He will do so unless the market price (wage) for those assets is allowed to fall to a new level.

And here’s the rub: if young workers like David had the right to negotiate lower wages, they might make a cost-effective case to remain employed. By offering to work for fewer dollars per hour, they could 1) impress their employers of their dedication to the job, and 2) help reduce company costs. But the minimum wage law prohibits the employer from entertaining that option. In effect, minimum wages eliminate the abilities of younger or lesser-skilled employees to bargain with their employers.

Remember our buddy Frédéric Bastiat? He wrote of “what is seen and what is not seen.” What is seen is some career politician, boasting to his/her constituency of the “social good” attained by guaranteeing a “living wage” for lower-income workers. What is not seen is the damage done to younger, less-skilled workers who are usually the first to go when a company has hard decisions to make. While the State supplants religion as the savior of mankind, hourly wage-earners are driven out of employment by unsustainable costs – which, in turn, create more clients of the State.

This was Hazlitt’s one lesson. The actions of economic players do not have equal reactions. Often, the effects of do-gooder policies result in devastating consequences, spread across the well-being of numerous individuals.

As it turned out, David’s kind-hearted boss was understanding of his young worker’s mistake, and wrote him a new check. But for David the lesson is being learned.

Monday, December 1, 2008

“Count No ‘Count”

The Friday morning after Thanksgiving I was stretching at the breakfast table in my mom’s cozy little abode in Dumplin Valley, lower Jefferson County, East Tennessee. Glancing to my right I saw, hidden at one end of a lower shelf in a bookcase, a copy of Lewis Leary’s William Faulkner of Yoknapatawpha County (1973). The worn little cloth-bound volume was missing its dust cover; it had been purloined from the Dekalb (GA) College Library in November of 1974. I asked mom if I could take it back with me to North Carolina to read, and she laughed, “Yeah, but you’ll have to pay the late fees on it!”

Faulkner is, in my mind, the greatest novelist of all time. Of course, this comes from one who has not read all the greats; but in Faulkner I get the sense that it would be unnecessary to do so. When he names his magnum opus after a line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, there is the hint that he is going to wad the whole of life and history into a ball and bowl you over with it. Faulkner had stories to tell the size of the universe, all set in the rural backcountry of mythical Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi.

I relate to Faulkner on a personal level. I had my picture made beside his bronze, bench-sitting statue on the square in Oxford, MS, back in 2005. In this college town the University affectionately called “Ole Miss” sits off to one side. At its center is the Lafayette County Courthouse, graced with a massive Confederate Memorial on the front lawn. All the main roads from the country spoke into the square, and one has to drive around the towering obelisk to the Lost Cause in order to get to another main route out. Here, Faulkner literally sat on the benches watching plain folk and listening. This was the hub of the universe, not New York City or London or Paris.

Faulkner came back to Oxford after the Great War (the one that was supposed to “make the world safe for democracy”) limping in a British airman’s uniform – he had joined the Canadian Air Force when the U.S. Army Air Corps rejected him on account of his stature. Both accessible and distant, he carried himself about like an English snob. A few disgusted local folk referred to him as “Count No ‘Count” behind his back.

Faulkner was himself a lost cause, and most people around town knew it. He could not live up to the legend of his poet-warrior great-grandfather, a genuine hero of the War Between the States, or his grandfather, a successful businessman. With each passing generation the Falkner clan was sliding downhill. William painted and drew and took random classes at white-columned Ole Miss (but not a degree). He was mostly a hard-drinking, Bible-pondering, people-watching layabout.

I am slowly sipping Leary’s sketch of Faulkner’s life and work like a hot cup of spiced-chai on a dreary afternoon – a welcomed respite from Carl Menger’s Grundsätze der Volkswirtschaftslehre (Principles of Economics). But it’s not pleasure reading. I find myself confronted with my own proclivity to romanticize the past and hate the present.
[Faulkner] denies himself the luxury of direct statement. Almost everything that he writes is qualified by modifiers or by parentheses which extend or obscure simple meanings. For a statement is final and static, arresting motion. It is incapable of capturing the constantly moving experience of living. Nouns which name need modifying. No man is simply a man. He is a kind of man, and to describe his kind requires subtle nuances. Any attempt to snare words arrange themselves as elusively and unexpectedly as do the forces, past and present, of shame, despair, or jubilation which twine and twist together to make him what he is…

…in his story “The Bear,” in which the boy Ike McCaslin can come near to the great beast only when he puts aside his compass and watch and gun, instruments which provide precise direction in time or place, or which accomplish the cessation of life – like assertive sentences which are exact but deadening, Faulkner must be read as a poet is read…

In life, he seems to say, no story is ever finished. Lovers die, but not love. The secrets of no person are ever completely revealed. Life is motion. To arrest motion is to make it inert and static, like the carved or painted figures on a Grecian urn of young men who forever chase but never catch young girls…
Actually, the more I think about it, I suspect ol’ Menger would have been tickled with Faulkner. His Volkswirtschaftslehre was based entirely upon the premise that people act, and no mathematical formula can quite explain it.

But a benchwarmer can get right close.