A World Ruined and Ruled by the Tyrant of Price :: by Wilfred Hahn

Does anyone doubt the endtime role of money?

We quote this long-urgent observation: “We live in a dangerous world where prices abound without values; and costs are only measured in prices. In such a world the price becomes the value and values are separated from real costs. What that means is that the common denominator of what is right becomes the price. A world ruled by price? That’s what happens in a world that is quickly globalizing and financializing. Price then becomes the world’s judiciary. It alone determines what is right and good.”

To gain insight into how this tyrannical state of affairs has come about, it is first necessary to examine the role of numbers and numeracy. These provide an on-ramp to this tyrannical new world.

[Editor’s Note: This article is a slightly-modified version of Chapter 8 of the 2002 book, Endtime Money Snare: How to live free. It is even more relevant a decade later.]

Let’s begin our investigation. What follows might seem like a jumbled assortment of trivia, yet they are all connected in an important way. Can you identify the commonality?

  • The Canadian government estimates the average cost of every suicide in the Province of New Brunswick at $849,877.80. An official stated that the study was done to show the importance of measures to prevent suicide, and that economic studies are the way to raise awareness of health problems.
  • Having a successful marriage is enormously important to happiness — it is worth the equivalent of $100,000 a year in income calculates Professor Andrew Oswald of Warwick University.
  • Tuesday, February 29, is expected to have added about $25.3 billion to the US gross domestic product in the year 2000.
  • A study by the Australian government estimates that if 50 percent of all trade barriers for agriculture, services and manufacturing would be removed, it would boost the world economy by more than $400 billion by 2015.
  • Thomas Hopkins of the Rochester Institute of Technology puts the cost of complying with federal rules at $668 billion in 1995. Employing his conservative estimates, he suggests that federal regulation costs the average American household $7,000; more than the average tax bill of $6,000.

You will probably have guessed the commonality of the above-mentioned facts. This collection of anecdotes isn’t any different from what might ordinarily be found in a daily newspaper; however, that is not their connection. What is common to all of them is that they are all related to money. Every one of these trends or conditions, no matter how abstract or unquantifiable, has been expressed as a value in terms of a currency.

Your first reaction, like mine, may be this: Just how were these estimates made? What techniques could possibly have been used to convert all these unrelated phenomena to a common language of money? Some of these facts do not seem particularly suited to being expressed as a monetary value. This practice of relating facts to monetary value can be crude and inappropriate. After all, can human life be valued in terms of money? What is the value of a liver transplant? What is the real, monetary value of truth? These are difficult questions and the answers are unquantifiable. Yet, estimates like these are printed daily about almost anything and everything.

It wasn’t always this way. What happened?

The new common language of the Endtime Money Snare is revealed — the numbers of money.

A World Colored with Hazardous Statistics

We live in a world of numbers. They shape our world in numerous ways, most of which are obvious. For example, all of today’s computer data systems are based on a numerical language. Networks, digital communications systems, and anything controlled by a microprocessor or integrated circuit are driven by numerical formulas and codes. The organization of our society — the entire world — centers around numbers. Phone numbers, street and house numbers, passwords, bank accounts, investment accounts and so on are all expressed in numerical digits. But, let’s not get hung up in a detailed account of the new mathematical theories and digital technologies that are sweeping the world. We are more interested in the application of numbers, how they are interpreted, and their influence upon our beliefs. More importantly, we want to better investigate their role in endtime events.

Numbers shape and form statistics. That fact allows statistics to be considered as the representatives of truth. But what if numbers lie?

Numeracy — the practice of documenting news, opinions and trends with numbers — is highly valued today. News reporters and researchers practice it carefully. If I did not exhibit some numeracy in writing this article — peppering its pages with statistics and footnotes — you, the reader, would surely find my views less credible. If I did not document trends by expressing various changes over a given period in terms of percentages, or by counting the growth or decline in the units of something, or referencing this information to reputable sources, you would be less able to assess the validity of my conclusions. Numeracy, therefore, is very useful when used in good measure.

Yet, an excessive fixation with numeracy can lead to dangers — ones that are extremely hazardous to anybody seeking to understand the times. How can numeracy — something that is innately useful — lead to peril? It serves as the springboard for three negative developments in our day: As a mechanism for widespread deception and misinformation; as a bridge to a world totally defined in terms of money; and lastly, to a world which chooses to accept numerical systems and mathematical theories in place of God … in other words, the Truth.

How a World Language of Money has Emerged

In my view, monetary numeracy — a common world language of money — has happened in several stages. It began with a fixation on quantification. Every trend and development is expressed in numerical terms, documented and captured in a statistical quantification. That in itself is not overly worrisome. Where the danger really lies is in the fact that our focus has moved from the real — the actual thing that is happening or being documented — to the statistic itself. The statistic now serves as a numerical image of the thing that is being quantified.

Just how accurate is this picture? Can numbers really capture all of the nuances of something that is real? Three apples on a table may be exactly that. But what does it mean that the annualized rate of inflation has fallen to 2.0% over the past month? Or, what is implied by the statistic that the teenage birth rate is declining by some percentage from the year before? These types of statistics require a more sophisticated interpretation. The image that these numbers portray can rarely be accepted at face value. More often than not, the real truth lies underneath this neat veneer of statistical precision. Though the numbers themselves are accurate, the truth can be very different from what seems obvious from the statistical headline.

To illustrate, let’s briefly examine the statistic about inflation. What does it really mean that inflation has fallen to 2.0%? To know this first requires an understanding about what inflation really is, which very few people actually possess. Alarmingly, very few financial professionals possess this knowledge either. Most accept the convenient and sanitized statistic of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) that is issued by the US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) at its face value. The same applies to similar measures reported by other national statistics agencies around the world. As it happens, real inflation is actually something very different. The CPI has grossly misrepresented real inflation trends this past decade. Yet, the CPI statistic is followed slavishly; it is accepted as truth. As a result, people may be being misled.

What about the statistic indicating that the teenage birth rate is declining? Yes, indeed, the teenage birth rate is declining. That appears to be a good development. But, again, what does this statistic really signify? Why is it declining? To be able to validly accept this statistic as either good or bad, we need to get in behind the number to discover its causality — its cause and effect. Are teenage births declining because of a decline in sexual activity, more effective birth control or both? Or, are births declining because abortions have increased? These are the relevant questions that require resolution in order to interpret the real meaning of the top-line statistic. As the case may be, the main contributing cause for the decline in teenage births in recent years is a rise in abortions. What seemed like such positive news actually disguises a disquieting trend. As such, we see that the real causes and effects can be overlooked — in fact, hidden — by statistics.

What George Orwell predicted would happen to words has also happened to numbers. In 1946, in an article called Politics and the English Language, he decried the deliberate misuse of words, writing that people craft their words “to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Numeracy itself is not the danger. The danger is in shallowly accepting numbers as the image of truth with no further critical analysis. That is the vulnerability of our age — allowing statistical numbers to reign as reality and truth. It is very easy to allow this to happen. We live in a society bombarded by data and we virtually drown in a flood of numbers and information overload. People lead harried lives; there is too little time for critical analysis and too many statistics to process. It is easier to accept the “sound bites” of the statistics just as they appear. What they seem to mean becomes perception.

Statistics Shape False Perceptions Even in Professional Circles

Surely only Mr. and Mrs. Couch Potato are vulnerable to these mistaken perceptions. If that was simply the case, statistical abuse would not be so much of a problem. The reality is that it also applies to professional people — the very same people who are more inclined to work with and depend upon numbers and statistics. I can certainly speak for the world’s financial and money industries. In my time as a senior financial executive, I discovered that very few people critically examined the true meanings of numbers and statistics. Little critical analysis takes place on Wall Street, not even by its financial analysts and economists. Very few economists actually understand the theory behind how statistics are calculated and derived in the first place. Even fewer understand the causes and effects that drive these statistics and the economic theories behind them. This is not an unfounded judgment. Sadly, the allegation is true. These people simply do not have the time to do real research or to diligently examine the real facts behind the numbers. A few of them do … but far too few to make any difference. It is much easier to accept the number at face value. Knowledge of the statistic passes for understanding.

What has happened then is that perception has become reality. The statistical number portrays the image that is perceived; therefore, this number has power because it can form and change popular perceptions. Reality and truth become inconsequential. Even worse, the truth becomes a liability if it is different from perception. Were we to take the time to examine a statistic and discover that its true meaning is very different than perception, it would not be very helpful. Why? Because almost everyone else will have accepted its face-value appearance for fact.

Let’s assume that the just-released economic statistic shows that the inflation level has declined. The majority of portfolio managers and investors will be sure to greet it as a positive development, perhaps quickly jumping into the market with new buy orders. The stock and bond markets lurch upward. The facts did not matter; perception did. Those that acted on the real facts lost out.

Deliberate Manipulation of Numbers

Perception often passes for reality. Benjamin Disraeli made this famous quip: “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” The comment strikes to the heart of a potentially serious issue. If perceptions are allowed to rule with careless reference to truth and reality, then statistics become very powerful. Now, they can hide more than they reveal. And, if that is the case, then why wouldn’t they be deliberately manipulated in order to create a certain desired perception? It is an important step towards the endtime role of numbers.

Are statistics deliberately manipulated? At times, they very definitely are. This may sound like the stuff of conspiracies but it is not really. In my view, it is just human nature at work. Consider these anecdotes of statistical tampering:

  • As of November 1991, the US Department of Commerce decided to switch its reporting on economic growth to the measure of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from Gross National Product (GNP). There is a significant difference between the two that might not be apparent to most people. Roughly explained, the former does not include earnings from foreign sources, while the latter does. Since America is running large deficits with the rest of the world, GDP will appear bigger than GNP. This statistical sleight of hand can boost reported growth by over 1% in some quarters. There have been subsequent numerous other changes to the statistical methods of tracking GDP. One recommended in late 1996 held an equally large impact. It was proposed that the method of estimating inflation should be changed. The effect? Not surprisingly, a twenty year record of inflation was lowered by 1.1% per annum, and the growth of the economy was boosted significantly … all at the stroke of a pen.
  • In Britain, few economic statistics have been more mistrusted than the government’s measure of unemployment. Between 1979 and 1995, some 30 adjustments have been made to the way that this statistic is calculated. Apparently, in violation of the law of averages, 29 of these caused “unemployment” to fall.

I could recount many more examples. Is it strange that the definition of these statistics tends to only change in one direction — any which way that leads towards a more favorable perception? And invariably, what is favorable is any revision that seems to be positive for prosperity, gain and wealth. Is there a diabolical conspiracy behind the above-mentioned statistical shifts? Yes, in a way there is, but not necessarily in the sense that there is a great, organized scheme underway on the part of the government to delude the public. It illustrates just one of the subtle orchestrations that are part of the great diabolical Endtime Money Snare.

But numeracy and numbers can lead to even worse abuses. Not only can they make us vulnerable to deceit and manipulation, they set up an all-important interface that allows the love of money to wreak its corruption upon the endtime world. We already discovered how common this new language of money has become. Statistics expressed in terms of money somehow seem to be more illuminating to our imaginations. Once we know the cost or price associated with a piece of information, we are better able to frame its reference. It strikes a common chord. A million bushels of wheat is more difficult to conceptualize than its price on the open market — probably around $8.8 million. The more that things, trends and values can be expressed in terms of money, the easier will be the transformation into a world which is given over to the worship of wealth and material. That, too, is another subtle step in the Endtime Money Snare.

But worst of all is that numbers and their application can even replace the need for God. Believe it or not, many have made numbers their god. How has this happened? It is a development that has been fostered by the new false god of Science and Technology.

Numbers Rail Against God

(The late) Peter L. Bernstein wrote an excellent and informative book called Against the Gods. Its title is meant to be a wordplay on the phrase “against the odds.” Essentially, the book’s unstated thesis is this: With modern mankind’s mastery of mathematics and the understanding of probabilities, gods are no longer necessary. He writes the following in his introduction to the book:

“The revolutionary idea that defines the boundary between modern times and the past is the mastery of risk: the notion that the future is more than whim of the gods and that men and women are not passive before nature. Until human beings discovered a way across the boundary, the future was a mirror of the past or the murky domain of oracles and soothsayers who held a monopoly over knowledge of anticipated events.”

What Mr. Bernstein is actually saying is that mathematics — the use of numbers, in other words — enables us to look into the future and to cross the boundaries of the unknown. What is this unknown? For mathematicians and financiers, the unknown is called risk. Not knowing what will happen in the future is “risk” … especially to those who have much money to lose.

In a nutshell, the concept underlying this definition of risk is very simple. You can better know the future by looking into the past. While that thought carries some truth, it assumes that tomorrow will always be like today. And, if tomorrow can be counted upon to be like today, then a god is no longer necessary. Though it is a simple notion, it has taken humanity many thousands of years to develop the mathematics and computation skills needed to capture the past with numbers and then to launch them into the future across the boundary of “risk.” It makes for a fascinating story. Today, there are many sophisticated applications of this idea — chaos and game theory, optimization, probability theory, portfolio theory, mortality tables … and on and on. But, taken too far, these applications can lead to the unfortunate delusion that a sovereign god no longer rules the affairs of creation.

The Bible ridicules and condemns this “rear-view mirror” concept of risk. “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth”, says King Solomon in Proverbs 27:1. Isaiah scorns the idea, too, caricaturing the culture of his day saying, “[…] let me get wine! Let us drink our fill of beer! And tomorrow will be like today, or even far better” (Isaiah 56:12). James thinks it is outright evil.

“Now listen, you who say, `Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, `If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.” (James 4: 13:16)

Would Solomon, Isaiah and James think differently if they had been schooled in the business schools — the statistics mills — of our day? Would the great tool of mathematics cause them to dispose of their belief in God?

Not likely. God and mathematics can co-exist. God is the author of order, after all. Mathematics is useful, but can only be a partial and pale imitation of God’s order and will. He indeed remains sovereign.

The Root of Statistical Fallacies

It is not my intent to explain in detail the modern-day application of math to the field of economics and finance. That task would require countless volumes … boring ones at that. My objective is simply to show how numbers — perhaps even prefigured by the 666 of Revelation — and the love of money interplay in their role in the great Endtime Money Snare.

Wherein lies the falsehood in the popular belief that the veil of the future has been lifted through the sophisticated use of numbers? The delusion is that “risk” — or the unknown — has been lessened or done away with. The fact is that the unknown exists as it always has. All that has happened is that the consequences of this risk have been expressed in the form of money and transferred to someone else.

Let’s examine just one example that illustrates the fallacy in this thinking that God can be replaced by numbers — the insurance industry. Does life insurance lessen the risk of anyone dying? Of course not. All that life insurance accomplishes is to transfer the risk of the unknown — in this case something that is fairly improbable over the near term — to the insurance company. They agree to accept this risk in return for your payment of monthly insurance premiums. Are they foolish to take this risk? No. They have used mathematics to figure out the probability of your untimely death. To do so, they look into the past and study huge amounts of data about previous death patterns — by age, occupation, sex, smoking habits, etc. They produce what are called mortality tables and then price your premiums accordingly, including a profit margin for their service. You still do not know when you will die. The insurance company, however, has agreed to spread the cost of your early death across all of its customers. Economists call this the “socialization” of risk. It is a very useful service; however, it has not changed the unknown. God is still in control.

These concepts of calculating future risks by modeling the past through numbers and sophisticated math, and transferring it to other people through financial products are what is behind virtually all financial innovation today. On the surface, it seems very confusing. The number of these types of services has exploded. As such, the role and use of financial markets have changed substantially.

By now it should be very clear. Numbers, expressed in monetary values, are a necessary device in the success of the Endtime Money Snare.

Some thoughts for contemplation. We have seen that we live in an age with more statistics and knowledge than ever before, but with less truth. People seem to know the price of everything, but the value of little. Instead, wisdom — past, present and future — today tends to be found in the belly of some financial model or spreadsheet.

Just what is the real value of truth and wisdom? This is what Job had to say:

“But where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell? Man does not comprehend its worth; it cannot be found in the land of the living. The deep says, `It is not in me’; the sea says, `It is not with me. It cannot be bought with the finest gold, nor can its price be weighed in silver.’” (Job 28:12)

Job is effectively saying that wisdom is priceless … that it is unquantifiable. It cannot be captured in a number. Therefore, we should not look for it in numbers and prices.

We live in a dangerous world where prices abound without values, and costs are only measured in prices. In such a world the price becomes the value and values are separated from real costs. What that means is that the common denominator of what is right becomes the price.

A world ruled by price? That is what happens in a world that is quickly globalizing and financializing. Price becomes the world’s judiciary and it alone determines what is right and good. That is a concept that ideally suits the juggernaut of globalization. Globalization reduced to its very essence is nothing more than this: A process leading to a world system in which all human actions are governed through the incentives of wealth and prosperity. And if wealth and prosperity are the worthy objectives, then whatever increases wealth will tend to be approved and considered good and right.

Of course, it is a satanic concept that prices and wealth can be used as a measure of truth. This thinking is most obvious in the world’s money industries — investment management and brokerage or any business dependent upon trends in market prices. To financial professionals, price is effectively truth. As one financial service ad says, “The moment of truth is when the best price is yours.”

Allow me to use the illustration of a portfolio manager to explain how price has become truth. If a portfolio manager buys an investment for whatever reason and the stock price then goes down in price, he has been judged to be wrong. The inverse applies as well. If a portfolio strategist reduces his investment in the stock market on the belief that stock prices are too high, it will be left to the future direction of the stock market to determine whether he was correct. In the competitive wrangle to squeeze wealth out of financial markets, the market is never wrong. Only investors can be wrong. Though a stock market may be in the midst of a huge mania that will someday end up in a sorry bust does not matter. The price is the truth, and truth is in an upward trend.

No One is Immune from the Deceptions of Numbers

This subtle shift of thinking about truth has not just affected financial professionals. It extends to our whole society, including Christians.

I can think of a number of prominent Christian investment managers who assume this posture. Their opinions about what drives markets and trends, no matter how ill-founded and baseless, are arrogantly assumed to be right simply because “the market” in retrospect has judged them as correct. That is perverse thinking. Markets represent the judgment and vanities of the world. Markets, prices, money, gold … whatever, do not contain truth. They are all denominated in a currency of man’s making.

We must not let prices — the new spectator sport of our world — determine our values. Our values — Biblical standards and eternal objectives — must determine our conduct. That imperative, of course, demands that we continue to be good stewards, work diligently and manage our resources faithfully. However, that is not the same as staking our hope and faith in the values of earthly wealth. Nor does it mean that the correctness of our living can be judged by how much wealth we accumulate, how much we earn, or how successfully our portfolios outperform the world’s financial markets. Yet, this monetary measuring rod — like the idolatrous Asherah poles worshipped during the times of the Old Testament prophets — is standing on many of the high places in the church today.

For us Christians caught during the times of the great Endtime Money Snare, living apart from the rule of numbers and markets will carry a cost. The measuring stick of price should not be allowed to be arbiter of truth and what is right in our lives. And undoubtedly for most of us, that will mean we may not accumulate as much wealth here on earth as the secular world thinks that we should.

Actually, we have great reason for joy. In one sense, living to God’s standard during the present upswing of the great Endtime Money Snare is hardly costly at all. We have the greatest money manager of all at our service. He promised that he would reward us hundredfold for every one of our sacrifices, with payment in an eternal currency that will never rust or corrode.

With an eternal guarantee like that, there is absolutely no need to invest by the numbers nor succumb to the tyrant of “price.”