What’s It All About?

GDP (PPP) Per Capita based on 2008 estimates h...

GDP (PPP) Per Capita, via Wikipedia

My current study interest is economics, so here is an economics question for you.  Is there “good” economic activity as opposed to “bad”?  Does the quality of economic activity matter?  As the “wealthiest” nation in the world, are we getting a proper “bang” for our buck?

In an exchange with another blogger (Johnny Kaje) this morning I discussed a couple of new projects in the news that I would put in the “bad” category, namely a new $85 million new casino east of Seneca and a $37 million Noah’s ark exhibit in Kentucky planned by Creationists.  The casino will be entertainment for some, but gambling is ultimately addictive and destructive.  I suppose the ark is entertaining too, but it perpetuates superstition and violates rationality.

Consider if you will the evolving nature of economic activity.  When the nation was founded, most people were farmers.  Even people like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were gentleman farmers.  In those days the motive for most work was to obtain the necessities of life, food, clothing, shelter and the mundane implements of daily living.

Today is different of course.  According to Economy Watch [ http://www.economywatch.com/world_economy/usa/different-sectors-of-economy/agriculture currently contributes only 1% of the GDP.


Image via Wikipedia

“Services” make up about 78%. That is productivity in action for sure, productive because of government-subsidized automation and risk-management.  One could make the case that the biggest challenge for the economy now is simply finding something for the rest of us to do while the farm machines and automated factories chug along.

From an economist’s point of view, busy-work seems just fine.  But, isn’t it ironic that so much of what occupies our attentions now is superficial?  Here are some examples.

  • Jewelry. Diamonds are forever, or so DeBeers famously says, but they are chunks of crystalized carbon which at a distance are indistinguishable from cubic zirconium.
  • Toys. I recall times when our boys seemed to have more fun with pots and pans or the cardboard box something came in than with the thing itself.  They were things like dolls, tops, slingshots, hula hoops, balls, Tonka trucks, and sports equipment.  Now the toy market seems permeated with battery power.  Almost everything talks, plays music or makes other sounds.  In my experience, toys with battery power serve mainly one purpose:  to raise the complexity and price of the product, obsolescence built in.
  • Art. An electrician in Paris recently revealed that he had a large trove of
    Baboon and Young by Pablo Picasso (1951) - Con...

    Baboon and Young by Picasso, via Wikipedia

    hitherto unknown pieces of Picasso’s art, estimated to be worth millions.  While Pablo was a talented guy who could capture the visual essence of something with a few strokes, what makes an original worth millions?  All in the mind of course.  Make that the ego.  Copies of masterworks are cheap and, like diamonds, can be indistinguishable from the real thing at a distance.

  • Social networking devices. Being able to stay connected obviously fills some deep need in the human psyche, but how many of us, especially here in Joplin, need a gizmo that shows us what’s playing at the movies, where to shop for something, what the weather is like in Seattle, or what our friends are shopping for at the moment?
Farmer plowing in Fahrenwalde, Mecklenburg-Vor...

Image via Wikipedia

The happiest people I have known were small farmers, my mother’s people.  My uncle raised cattle and the crops to feed them.  He loved the life and while he liked to play “ain’t it awful” about the rest of the world, I don’t think he and my aunts would have changed places with anyone.  The work was physical, predictable and gratifying.  They were serenely independent, and their lifestyle was in stark contrast to those who endure a job for a paycheck.

Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, goes the aphorism.  I suspect old Nick likes superficial busy work about as well as idleness, and if so he is getting his way.  Our culture is a mile wide and an inch deep.  A fitting symbol for it would perhaps be a battery-powered creche.


About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
This entry was posted in Culture, Economics, Philosophy, Sociology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to What’s It All About?

  1. jwhester says:

    By what rational argument do you claim that Noah’s Ark perpetuates superstition and violates rationality?


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Basically, John, the biblical story of Noah’s ark is at odds with the fossil record, the science of geology and the reality of evolution. How animals, and man for that matter, evolved and came to be are clear from scientific evidence. The ark makes a nice children’s story but that’s it for me. Geology and biology comprise a complex and beautifully-consistent record and explanation of how everything happened and none of it is compatible with the story of the flood. For more please visit one of my previous posts and the book mentioned in it:





  2. jwhester says:

    What fossils have been found that show a man named Noah never existed, that he built a boat, or that there was a flood? What does evolution have to do with the ark story? What from geology or biology demonstrates that floods are a modern phenomenon and couldn’t have occurred in the ancient past? These are not intended to be combative questions; I am genuinely interested to hear how you believe these are at odds with each other.


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      I don’t doubt that someone named Noah existed and he may well have built a boat. There have always been cataclysms of nature including floods. Islam and other religions have accounts similar to that in Genesis about such a flood, deriving no doubt from the unpredictability and violence of weather. The geological record shows great variance of weather over the earth’s history, ice ages, droughts, etc. It shows for example that the present Mediterranean Sea was dry before about 10,000 years ago. It began to flood at the end of one of the ice ages when the Atlantic ocean rose and breeched the land barrier south of present-day Gibraltar. It must have been stupendous and might well be a source of the flood myths. There was an excellent article about it some years ago in Scientific American magazine. But the geologic record shows that there has never been a flood that covered the entire earth since the time land animals evolved.

      There are many problems with the Genesis account. For instance it says that God used the flood to destroy all life, “every creature that has the breath of life in it”, except for that on the ark. This would indicate a single geographic starting point for all the creatures which coexisted with man in Noah’s time, which would have had to be within the past 190,000 years or so because we now know that that is about how long the species Homo Sapiens has existed. The fossil record however shows that animal life (all biota, that is) evolved gradually and continuously all over the earth over the past 600 million years or so. While there have been numerous “extinctions”, none of those was total and the fossil record shows continuity of life forms in all cases. It is this continuity that is consistent with evolution in-place and which is not consistent with the Genesis account.

      Also, it is inconceivable to me that all the amazing diversity of life, along with the necessary food, could have been protected one from another and accommodated on such a small vessel for 150 days, unless of course you invoke God’s supernatural powers. But if you do that, then we are into the rationality issue again. You see, I have much in common with the apostle Thomas.

      I am only revealing the tip of the iceberg here. The Genesis account fails on many levels that I am not organized to address, but if you will access the book my post referred to I think you will find the evidence overwhelming. If your library doesn’t have it, they can very likely get it through the inter-library loan system. And by the way, I appreciate your not dismissing the question out of hand as I think most people of “faith” would do.

      There is also a conflict between what science knows about human evolution and the Genesis account of the flood, and that is in both the fossil record and the DNA record of the human race. Please consider the following-referenced post in that context. (It contains a link to an excellent Smithsonian site that shows we humans did not all originate with Noah’s relatives.)



      • jwhester says:

        Thank you for your detailed response. As is often the case, what appeared to be a disagreement isn’t much of one. I don’t have a problem with your scientific evidence . And we basically agree that science has contrary evidence to some of the details of the story.

        I am not one of those Christians who tries to insist that the Bible is a scientific text. Some Christians (foolishly in my opinion) try to read it as such, but that clearly doesn’t work. (Jesus called the mustard seed the smallest of all seeds.)

        To me just because from Noah’s perspective the whole earth was covered or all animals were gathered doesn’t mean that that actually happened from our perspective. Yes, God said God was going to “blot out from the face of the ground” “every living thing.” So this leaves out creatures of the air and the sea, but I also think the “every” refers to Noah’s perspective, so it doesn’t even necessarily mean every land creature on the planet. (If God had created life on another planet, would God feel compelled to add a caveat for Noah? I think not.)

        Where we might disagree is whether these discrepancies means that the story must be discard altogether.


        • Jim Wheeler says:

          The bible is Western Civilization’s original literature, the principal base of literacy in Europe and, subsequently, in our part of the world. It contains an amalgam of wisdom condensed from many early writings. These things I believe.

          Now, you choose to apply reason and to read biblical passages in the context of the times they were written. You imply that they were written for a less-worldly audience than we. Interesting. Does this mean to you that some passages may be allegorical? Does this mean that various biblical passages need not be complete or consistent with others?

          But, evangelical churches teach that the bible is the inerrant word of God. As soon as you begin to interpret and reason, consistency is forfeit and the authority of the clergy is weakened. I think it is a slippery slope. Be careful or you might find yourself with me near the bottom.

          If you would like to share with me an historian’s objective perspective on the history of the early Christian Church, I suggest William Manchester’s “A World Lit Only By Fire”. One warning: do not look for this little book to be on the Pope’s approved reading list.


  3. Duane Graham says:


    I won’t quibble with your extolment of small farmers or certainly not with your diagnosis that the Kentucky Noah’s ark exhibit “perpetuates superstition and violates rationality.” (By the way, that was a beautiful response to the first commenter.)

    I just want to confirm, at least partly, what you say about our superficial culture. I tell this to my youngest technology-drunk son all the time, and even quote to him one of my favorite sayings of G. K. Chesterton, from many years ago, long before cell phones and e-mail and Facebook and Twitter:

    It is the beginning of all true criticism of our time to realize that it has really nothing to say, at the very moment when it has invented so tremendous a trumpet for saying it.



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