Cafe Hayek: a voice in the wilderness

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For anyone who’s had to sit through a deadly dull entry-level economics course, the blog Cafe Hayek is both inspiring and frustrating.

It’s inspirational because Don Boudreaux and Russ Roberts are two of the most talented, entertaining and enlightening bloggers writing today. It’s frustrating because both are economics professors at George Mason University and one begins to realize just how uninspiring so many other economics professors are by comparison.

Take this entry by Boudreaux, titled “Regressivism,” and repinted below in its entirety:

“I read Tocqueville’s Democracy in America well over a decade ago.  I now want to read it again.  This desire is prompted by this passage below, taken from today’s column by George Will.  I’m chagrined to admit I do not recall, from my own long-ago reading of that great book, the Tocqueville quotation:

In “Democracy in America,” Alexis de Tocqueville anticipated people being governed by “an immense, tutelary power” determined to take “sole charge of assuring their enjoyment and of watching over their fate.” It would be a power “absolute, attentive to detail, regular, provident and gentle,” aiming for our happiness but wanting “to be the only agent and the sole arbiter of that happiness.” It would, Tocqueville said, provide people security, anticipate their needs, direct their industries and divide their inheritances. It would envelop society in “a network of petty regulations — complicated, minute and uniform.” But softly: “It does not break wills; it softens them, bends them, and directs them” until people resemble “a herd of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

So what today seems as modern as Matisse once seemed was foreseen 17 decades ago.

“I have in my living room an engraving of New Hampshire’s state motto, ‘Live Free or Die.’  It’s a proud and worthy sentiment for a free people, but not one shared generally by Americans today – or by any other peoples, it seems.  Increasingly, Americans’ sentiments would be more aptly captured by the motto ‘Exist as Coddled Children or Cry.’

“And I have hanging in my office a replica of the revolutionary-era flag ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ – another proud sentiment worthy of a free people, but one that now, in America, ought to read ‘Please Care for Me.’

“Update: My friend Fred Foote suggests that the image to accompany the motto ‘Please Care for Me’ would be, not a fierce and coiled snake, but a begging piglit.”

Alas, were there more professors like Boudreaux and Roberts teaching, economics might not so often be referred to as the “dismal science.”

New exhibit looks at Confederate memory

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The South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum has unveiled an exhibit titled “No Holier Spot of Ground” – Confederate Memory in South Carolina’s Cemeteries, Monuments, and Museums.

Of approximately 63,000 South Carolina troops mustered into service during the War Between the States, nearly 21,000 died. Their gravesites range from major locations such as Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston and Elmwood Cemetery in Columbia to the small-town graveyards and tiny family plots that dot every corner of the state, testaments to lives lost and dreams dashed.

“Each number within this astounding death total directly represents an individual whose life came to a short end, leaving behind unfulfilled hopes and dreams,” according to an introduction for the exhibit. “Likewise, it also represents the families whose worlds were instantly shattered. Never again would they feel the embrace, hear the voice or experience the comfort of their loved one.”

The exhibit tells South Carolina’s story of memorializing the Confederacy through establishing burial arrangements, monuments and museums. It examines how families and communities in the state attempted to cope with loss during the war, and how later generations continue these forms of commemoration.

The exhibit will be on display at the Columbia museum through Aug. 2, 2009.

Peoples’ financials show continued weakness

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Financials for Peoples Bancorporation of Easley, SC, for the quarter ended March 31, 2009, showed continued balance sheet weakness, particularly in the company’s loan portfolio.

The parent of Peoples National Bank, The Bank of Anderson and Seneca National Bank reported $14,056,000 in non-performing loans and $4,921,000 in other real estate owned as of March 31, 2009, compared with $5,309,000 in non-performing loans and $930,000 in other real estate owned a year earlier.

According to information filed Monday with The Securities and Exchange Commision, Peoples’ non-performing loans as of March  31,  2009 consisted of $13,850,000 in mortgage loans, $202,000 in commercial loans, and $4,000 in consumer loans.

Non-performing assets as a percentage of loans and other real estate was 4.78 percent as of the end of the first quarter of 2009, compared to 1.47 percent a year earlier.

On the plus side for the company, all figures for first quarter 2009 were an improvement, albeit slight, over those of Dec. 31, 2008.

Given the condition of the economy, Peoples doesn’t anticipate things improving significantly any time soon.

“Management believes further deterioration of economic conditions in the Company’s market areas is possible in the short-term, especially with respect to real estate related activities and real property values. Consequently, Management expects that further increases in provision for loan losses may be needed in the future,” the company said in its most recent 10-K filing.

Stock in Peoples closed at $3.50 a share Monday, down from its 52-week high of $9.76.