Saturday, December 06, 2008

Reader Responses

Feedback on Escutcheons and Economics

By John Taylor; 2008 Dec 06, 13 Qawl 165 BE


Now that I have finished my initial treatment of family I have the daunting and time-consuming job of absorbing the rest of the Panorthosia, then integrating it with the Baha'i principles and my set of proposals for local infrastructure under a world government. In response to the last essay on family, Jean wrote:




"Hi John, Nice one! I want to compliment you on one particularly felicitous use of metaphor: "Every commercial injects an attitude of selfish entitlement highly corrosive to the spirit of service that lubricates a successful, united family." I look forward to reading that article you cited on bonuses, and some background on the definition/etymology of `escutcheon'."




As for "escutcheon," Comenius wrote this book in Latin and probably did not use this word, but I thought it conveys his idea nicely. Escutcheon does come from the Latin Scutum, for shield, and he may well have used it in describing these short declarations for family and other institutions, I have no idea. Here are the dictionary definitions of the word, along with some examples the dictionary gives:




Escutcheon \ih-SKUHCH-uhn\, noun: a shield decorated with a coat of arms, or: 2. the protective metal plate around a keyhole and lock, drawer handle or pull, light switch, etc. 3. the panel on a ship's stern bearing her name

"The news comes as a blow to ... the coolest head in the family, who is embarking on a campaign for state auditor and doesn't think another blot on the escutcheon will do much for his chances."

"Being drunk, disorderly and violent merits a ... blot on your escutcheon."



In response to recent essays about economics, Ed writes:




"Hi John, I'm continuing to enjoy your postings, and it's great that you are looking at the subject of economics. My brother is very involved in the Green Party and is also very interested in Henry George's economic theories. He has given me a book to read but it's very dry for me. Are you familiar with George at all? I came across a reference somewhere a while ago in which Abdu'l-Baha was asked about George's theories and His answer was as if to say those theories were not very significant. Of course George doesn't refer to the aspect of spirituality except to say that there is always injustice when there's poverty, and it's not just a factor of over-population as was proposed by the economists of the day."




"Do you any useful information on Henry George?"




Thank you for pointing out this guy. I just read the Wiki article about George at The article points out that George's economic ideas inspired, among other things, the game that eventually became Monopoly. Like Marx, George was suspicious of private ownership of land. Landowners he considered to be leaches on society who should be taxed; the most successful implementation of his ideas is in Hong Kong. This city state has one of the highest population densities in the world and, because of its Georgeist land taxation setup it need not charge high taxes for other things. In his suspicion of landowners he resembles some of the monetary reformers that I have been reading lately. They too are suspicious of wealthy elites, in this case bankers. Bankers make the world's money supply by loaning to one another and interest payments to them weighs down even the largest national governments.




As for property ownership, I discussed the Marxist and Baha'i angles on this question in an essay called "Introducing Marxism, I;" it appeared on the Badi' Blog on the 19th December, 2005. I noted then that the Master in Paris said,




"Land belongs not to one people, but to all people. This earth is not man's home, but his tomb." (Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, 28)




This certainly seems to agree with Henry George. Surely it only stands to reason that land should not be wholly owned by any one person or group. Majority ownership at least should be in the hands of all humanity. I personally do not see why we cannot split up ownership in land the way we do companies by having shares that are bought and sold. Now that we have computers complexity would not be an argument against it. It is interesting that the same problem of invisible, anonymous private ownership also applies to religion, as the Master pointed out in the same visit:




"Those who would have men believe that religion is their own private property once more bring their efforts to bear against the Sun of Truth: they resist the Command of God; they invent calumnies, not having arguments against it, neither proofs. They attack with masked faces, not daring to come forth into the light of day." (Paris Talks, 103)




This is not to say that Baha'is are at all against the idea of private ownership itself. It is just that, like democracy and religion itself, it needs to be reformed and improved. The Guardian made this clear,




"One thing, however, is certain that the Cause neither accepts the theories of the Capitalistic economics in full, nor can it agree with the Marxists and Communists in their repudiation of the principle of private ownership and of the vital sacred rights of the individual." (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, June 10, 1930, in Lights of Guidance, p. 548)




Yes, private ownership is a "vital and sacred right", but the problem Henry George saw was that land ownership is different from other kinds of proprietorship. The ownership of all people, indeed the ownership of all creatures and of God Himself, should have a part of owning such fundamental natural resources. I have often railed against the deprivations of the rights of the Great Majority by a minority of exclusive owners, for example when I wrote,




"But who is there to complain when the biggest voiceless minority (so voiceless that it does not realize that it is actually a majority), All Mankind, is being ripped off? Nobody. Exclusive ownership means that I own it, alone, and nobody else has a say. That is why I think it is useful to personify the oppressor of all mankind and call him Adolph Nobody." ("Adolph and the Griper's Paradox," December 29, 2006,




Another reform that Henry George fought for and won was the secret ballot in elections. As a Wiki article linked in the Henry George article explains, the idea of a secret ballot was extremely controversial in the 19th Century, although today it is universally accepted. How wonderful it would be if in future all forms of exclusivity, religious and economic, were as reviled as Hitler; and if shared ownership were as uncontroversial as the secret ballot.


John Taylor



No comments: