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Written by Jim Jordal   
Friday, 28 August 2009

IDEAS HAVE CONSEQUENCES

By Jim Jordal

"Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back."

Lord John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), renowned British economist

If you’re someone who considers bad ideas as harmless ravings of the lunatic fringe, think again. If you consider bad ideas to be without adverse consequences, then think some more. Ideas—both good and bad—carry profound effects centuries into the future unless they are destroyed in war, as was Nazism, or completely discredited as in the case of the flat earth belief.

With the recent death of Robert S. MacNamara, one of the original Ford "whiz kids," Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and long-time President of the World Bank, this essential wisdom comes into play again. In his writings, MacNamara confesses the great wrong he and his cohorts committed because of their slavish belief in the so-called domino theory. If you remember, this theory, hatched in academic think tanks, held that we must resist Communism wherever it appeared because if one nation fell to Communism, then others would follow like falling dominoes.

This fateful "wisdom" cost America 58,000 dead, debts of hundreds of billions, millions of shattered lives, the hatred of much of the world, and an ideologically fragmented society that has not yet recovered. So this one idea had monstrous consequences as it captured the loyalties of national political and military leaders and much of the voting public as well.

John Maynard Keynes (author of the quotation above) was perhaps the leading economic thinker of the Twentieth Century. Keynes was prominent in the formation of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund—attempts to salvage a shattered world trade system following World War Two. His ideas on how to recover from depressions—the use of "pump priming" in the form of gigantic government expenditures--was used by Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal as well as being one driving force behind the Obama Economic Stimulus Plan

Keynes spoke mainly of the idealistic origins of Fascism and Communism—two great false ideas of the Twentieth Century. He was disturbed by the awesome consequences following the fleshing-out of these ideas in the earth-shaking actions of the heartless tyrants behind National Socialism and Communism.

Today, this concept applies on an even-broader scale. We tend to laugh at academic "ivory towers" and "think tanks," but the ideas they generate have consequences on an unprecedented scale. How about the "supply-side economics," of the Reagan years and the next generation? That was the idea that giving massive tax relief to the upper classes will result in hordes of new jobs and prosperity for all as the "rising tide lifts all boats." And the consequence? The rising tide did not lift all boats, but only the yachts of the rich while the rowboats and skiffs of the working class sank under the massive debt necessary to survive as wages stagnated and costs of living increased.

One could blame much of the current economic debacle on the centuries-old concept that somehow the rich and powerful know more about what the country needs than the middle and working classes do. This flawed belief leads to innumerable troubles for the poor as the power elite dominate society through laws and customs designed specifically to justify and perpetuate their power. That’s what the Psalmist meant when he penned the lament: "Shall the throne of iniquity, which devises evil by law, have fellowship with thee?" If you doubt that evil can be enshrined in law, please consider the current health care situation in which mega-health care corporations operate under excessively lenient laws passed by compliant legislators interested in favoring their campaign contributors. Some of these giants of the health care industry routinely deny coverage to those least able to fight for their rights, thus forcing many into financial bankruptcy or needless death.

With the advent of worldwide instantaneous communication at the touch of a computer key, bad economic and political ideas are even more dangerous since they can quickly gain currency if promoted by the media.

So it’s even more important that we in the faith community as well as our financial and government leaders carefully consider consequences before jumping aboard the bandwagon of a new idea. Bad ideas still abound and their consequences can be quite catastrophic.