On Completing Phase 2 of My Lifetime Calling
July 28, 2012
At 5 AM this morning, my site's Membergate software posted today's four articles. One was the final posting in this department, Free Weekly Book. This book is titled Authority and Dominion, and is an economic commentary on First Timothy.
This is out of order. The final volume in my 31-volume series is my commentary on the epistles. It was published last week, with the next-to-last volume published this week. I have restructured their order of publication in order to maintain continuity from Genesis to Revelation.
The completion of this series means that I have completed the second phase of my lifetime calling. I define calling as the most important thing you can do in which you would be most difficult to replace. I distinguish it from occupation, which is how someone puts food on the table.
The first phase of my calling began in the spring of 1960. I decided that I wanted to study the relationship between free market economics, which I understood as Austrian school economics, and the Bible. I was not the first person to contemplate such a study. I did not know it at the time, but a Dutch Calvinist businessman had been publishing the works of Austrian school economist Eugen von Böhm-Bawek for several years. His name was Frederick Nymeyer. He had also put up the money to have Böhm's major works translated into English. Hans Sennholz was one of the translators. The paperback monthly magazine that Nymeyer published, 1955-60, was called Progressive Calvinism. It was not particularly Calvinistic. It was Austrian.
There was also a twice-monthly tabloid, Christian Economics, which was financed by the richest Calvinist in the world, J. Howard Pew, who was the head of Sun Oil Corporation. That tabloid was mailed free of charge to almost every Protestant pastor in the United States. I doubt that more than a handful of them actually read it.
The problem with that tabloid is simple to state: there was nothing particularly Christian about it. The authors were first-rate free market economists, and many of them were Austrian school economists. There were articles by Mises, Hazlitt, and other luminaries in the Austrian camp. But there was no attempt by the authors to integrate what they were writing on economics with the Bible. I recognized this very early.
I realized that this was a gap in the thinking of both free market economists and Christians. The economists were mostly agnostics, and the Christians were mostly economic illiterates. I decided that I would do my best to reconcile the two positions. I thought both were true, and since both were true, they ought to be consistent with each other. So I imagined.
I did not know at the age of 18 how I was going to conduct this project. I suspected that it would take several years. So far, it has taken 52 years, and I have only completed Phase 2.
Phase 1 continued as I published in The Freeman, beginning in February 1967. That was 45 years ago. I wrote for numerous publications -- probably two dozen -- by 1973. My book on Marx, Marx's Religion of Revolution, appeared in 1968. I completed my doctoral dissertation, "The Concept of Property in Puritan New England, 1630-1720," in 1972. My Introduction to Christian Economics, appeared in the spring of 1973. That completed Phase 1.
Phase 2 began in March of 1973 at the suggestion of my wife. She said it would be a good project to do an economic commentary on the Bible, verse by verse. This had never been attempted before. I wrote the first chapter, dealing with Genesis 1:1, in time to have it published in May. It was published in a monthly newsletter sent out by my father-in-law's organization, the Chalcedon Foundation.
I recognized four years later that the pace of publication was too slow. I would clearly not make it through the entire Bible. So, I did what I do not generally recommend: I took a vow. I vowed to devote 10 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, until my 70th birthday. If I finished the project, well and good. If I did not finish the project, I was off the hook at age 70.
I had a quid pro quo for that vow. I wanted to make a decision on where to move to, and that involved buying a home. I was living in Washington, D.C. I had been working for Ron Paul as his staff economist/researcher. He had lost in November 1976 by about 268 votes out of 180,000+. I had taken a job with the Ruff Times newsletter. I did not want to stay anywhere near Washington. Enough was enough.
I wanted to look farther south: either Charlottesville or Durham. Both have large university libraries. I needed access to good libraries, I thought.
I wanted to buy a home. I vowed that in the month that I moved into the home, the vow would commence. Within weeks, I located a spectacular opportunity in Durham. The home had been on the market for 45 minutes. It was 3500 sq/ft, all brick, with a dirt basement on an acre of ground. The total price was $59,000. I made the offer of $58,000 by the afternoon, and the seller accepted it that evening. The next day, the family that had seen the house 45 minutes before we did made an offer. Normally, homes were on the market in Durham for six months. By the time the family made that offer, the house was off the market.
I moved into that house in August of 1977. At that point, the vow took effect. This meant that I was committed until February 2012 to an investment of time to produce an economic commentary on the Bible.
There was a hitch, however. In 1998, when I was still living in Tyler, Texas, my library had already been packed. I moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas. But we had not sold our Tyler home. I stayed behind.
I had made an exclusion for the vow. It was only binding when I had my library available. For six months, I did not have my library available. So, I ceased working on the project. But as soon as I had my library available again, I started up the work. That meant that the extension time of the vow pushed it to August of 2012.
I completed the proofreading of the final volume's typesetting on July 27. The volume was published at 5 AM on July 28. I therefore had two weeks to go, give or take a few days, to complete the vow: August 11, 2012. I do not need an extra two weeks.
If we count the vow as month-to-month, I completed the book project three days early.
INPUT, NOT OUTPUT
This vow was not based on output. I could not tell when I began the project in 1973, the number of chapters I would have to write. As it turned out, it was approximately 700 chapters, plus dozens of appendixes, plus 4 book-long appendixes.
As any Austrian school economist will tell you, value is not based on labor. The labor theory of value is wrong. Inputs don't count; output counts. But, when you begin a project whose output is indeterminate, you have to decide on another measure that you will use to judge your progress in completing the project. You have to go to an input-based measure. In my case, that measure was time.
There was no possible way that I could have known how many volumes would be involved in this project when my wife first proposed it in 1973. She also did not know. I did not know how long it would take to research, write, raise money for publishing, and supervise the production of the volumes. I did not count the fund-raising as part of the vow. That process took something in the range of 30 hours a week for over 20 years. I did the fund-raising through my Institute for Christian Economics. I shut it down on the last day of 2001, because I realized that the World Wide Web did not require fund-raising to publish books. There was no reason for me to continue to devote 30 hours a week to fund-raising, which involved writing cover letters, newsletters, and publishing books as part of the overall operation.
As it is turned out, I completed Phase 2 with at least two weeks to spare. The project took over 39 years to complete.
This I think is one of the best examples in history of the truth of Parkinson's Law: "Work expands so as to fill the time allotted for its completion."
This is only phase 2. This gets the typeset books into PDF format, where people can print them out and read them. But people these days do not read as much as they did in 1973. So, I have several projects ahead of me to complete the overall calling, which I chose for myself in the spring of 1960.
First, I will have to convert the chapters to a series of YouTube videos. There will be two videos per chapter. The first video will be a two-minute summary of the chapter's conclusion, which will serve as a teaser. At the end of each teaser video, there will be a pop up that the viewer can click, and this will lead him to a detailed video on the particular passage. This means I have something in the range of 1400 videos to produce.
Second, I will work on a website which I will call The Covenantal Structure of Economics. Here, I must break down the categories of Christian economics into 25 separate categories, each of which is an aspect of what I call the Bible's five-point covenantal structure. There will be five covenantal categories: ownership, stewardship, ethics, sanctions, and growth. There will be five covenants: the Dominion covenant, the family covenant, the individual covenant, the state covenant, and the church covenant. Christian economics deals with all five covenants. I hope this will take a year to complete.
Third, I will have to write a comprehensive treatise, along the lines of Human Action, but probably longer. I plan to do it in a unique format. I'm aware of no other book which has adopted the following procedure.
Part 1 will be on the covenantal structure of economics. Chapter 1 will be "Christian Economics as Bumper Stickers." There are five bumper stickers:
God owns everything.
Chapter 2 will be "Christian Economics in One Page."
Chapter 3 will be "Christian Economics in One Lesson."
Then comes Part 2. It will be 10 chapters. Five chapters will be devoted to the five points of the covenant. Five chapters will be devoted to the five covenants. I came up with this structure for a book I wrote and published in 1987, Inherit the Earth.
Then comes Part 3. I think this will be somewhere in the range of 300 pages. I hope it would be suitable for a high school class in economics. It will extend the insights of parts one and two.
Then comes Part 4. This will be a Mises-like presentation of the same material. I expect it to be at least 800 pages long. In other words, it will be approximately the size of Human Action.
But wait! There's more! I will have to produce videos to cover the same material. This will of course include MP3 files for audio listening to and from work.
Then comes Phase 4. If I get past Phase 3, I will then write a book on epistemology. I began that project in 1976 with my essay, "Economics: From Recent to Intuition." That essay appeared in a collection of essays which I edited: Foundations of Christian Scholarship. I will have to make a book out of that essay.
As extra credit, I may write a book on the epistemology of economics and historiography, along the lines of Mises's Theory and History. I will focus on the issue of imputation. I have the section on historiography in my mind. We'll see.
Be careful what you select as your life's calling. Do it early. The clock is ticking.
Busy, busy, busy.