A Civilizing Port in a Storm

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The website
LewRockwell.com has as its slogan "Anti-State, Anti-war, Pro-Market"
with the explanation
given that its founder "is an opponent of the state, its wars
and its socialism." Given the founder's association with the
Mises Institute, the site has
come to be known as a "libertarian" website. Of course,
one needs to dig
a little deeper
to discover the true mission of the site, and
it's contained in what is not opposed in the motto. Reading Human
Action, for example, reveals not simply a political or economic
theory, but Mises as an erudite writer well versed in fields outside
those realms, able to pun and quote at will in Latin and French
with the expectation that the reader will have the education to
understand or seek out the meaning. As such, he epitomizes the "older"
model of education within what C.S. Lewis in The
Abolition of Man
has called "the Tao." One can
dispense with such terms if one simply understands that the cause
of the website, as with the Austrian school of economics, is the
advancement of civilization itself; the website serves as a port
in the storm that besets civilization.

Civilization
is a gradual process. As
Gary North notes
, it results from the accretion over time of
the 2–3% increase in productivity, year over year, brought
about by the division of labor working in a society that respects
property and features honest money. It is not a "leaps and
bounds" process, but must proceed anew with each generation,
just as education must do.

The opposite
of civilization is not barbarism or savagery, both of which can
aspire to civilization, but instead the process of decivilization.
Austrian economics focuses on money and credit for one chief reason:
the real interest rate is that rate of exchange of the most marketable
good that balances the needs of borrowers and lenders, and sound
money will maintain a society's time preference for long versus
short-term investment; monkey with the interest rate or currency,
and you will shift a public's time preference towards short-term
returns and instant gratification. Given that much of the work that
supports a modern civilization has a duration that extends over
years, if not decades, a society that is unable to undertake long-term
investment is a society unable to maintain or grow its civilization,
and it is in fact one that is in the process of decivilizing.

Although it
seems most obvious that long-term investment is needed in an industrial
society, it also formed the foundation of agricultural societies.
It used to be said that "no man plants an olive grove for himself,"
given the long time between establishment and first harvest. A man
had to establish such for his offspring, and the society in which
he lived had to recognize the property rights of his children to
even allow him to consider such an undertaking that would never
profit him directly. Indeed, this is one reason why the olive branch
is a symbol of peace, and why destruction
of olive groves
is so troubling to it.

Another example
is offered by the fortified wine industry of Portugal. Tawny ports
are commonly sold as 10, 20, 30 and even 40-year-old blends of wines
from different vintages. Even older are the Madeira wines, with
some only drunk (and first drinkable!) more than 100 years after
their creation. No one would work to create a Madeira if he expected
that his great-grandchildren's ownership of it might be terminated,
and so the fact that we can continue to drink ancient Portuguese
fortified wines today is testament to Portugal's maintenance of
civilization over the centuries (not coincidentally, Portugal managed
to avoid the two World Wars.)

The king of
Portuguese fortified wines, however, is the vintage port, another
wine that will last for years. As the Vintage
Port site
explains: "A ‘Declaration’ takes place when the
producer believes that he has an outstanding port. Nature plays
a major role in this decision. For this reason, a Vintage Port is
only declared about three times every ten years." The 1990s
were good years for port
, with 1991, 1992, 1994 and 1997 unequivocal
vintage years, with 1995 usually included as well.

As civilization
is a gradual process, so too is wine maturation. Indeed, it was
custom in certain English families to understand that it takes as
long for a boy to mature as it does for a good bottle of vintage
port, and so they would buy
a vintage from his birth year
for father and son to drink on
his 21st birthday. As with mythological ontogeny
recapitulating phylogeny
in which an embryo retraces the steps
in its evolution, so the child must recapitulate the civilizing
process, again with the gradualism with which civilization advances.

It would seem
that father's day would be a good time to reconnect to this ancient
tradition. So if you're wondering what to get that man with a child
born in 1988, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1997, 2000, or 2003, buy him
the gift that promises a sweet reward at the end of a long and tedious
process. The promise that he will share it with his child is the
hope that war, strife and disease will leave both unclaimed, and
that the process of civilization, the work of the Austrian school,
will continue.

June
14, 2008

Thomas M.
Schmidt [send him mail],
a native of Brooklyn, recalls the words that drive New Yorkers mad:
when he asked why the 1994 vintage should cost more than the 1991,
being younger, he was told that the 1994 “might be the vintage of
the century.” He looks forward to drinking that vintage in 2015.

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