(Non-)Masonic Book Review: Naked Economics

For anyone who hasn’t done much reading on economics, this book would be a great introduction. Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan and Burton G. Malkiel does a great job of explaining basic economic principles and the practical reasons for understanding them without going too deep into the academics. I’ll also add that the authors do a great job of viewing economics from multiple political angles and express the multiple sides of economic issues and opinions fairly.

A basic understanding of economics is helpful to informing one’s political opinions, developing business acumen, and making healthy personal finance choices. It can also be helpful in running a lodge. The ideas of economics can be applied broadly. While there are surely ways to relate almost all economic concepts to Freemasonry, there were a few that jumped out at me in particular. Some of it may be a bit of a stretch in terms of direct applicability of the content of the book, but they are themes that presented opportunities for reflection.

Rising Tides

The economics of trade between countries are not a zero sum game. The vast majority of trade activity is a net positive for all parties involved. Even players competing for business or resources in a narrower market can benefit eachother by growing an industry. In most situations, a rising tide lifts all boats.

Likewise, lodge membership is not a zero sum game. In cases where there are multiple lodges to choose from in an area, lodges do indeed compete for new members and even for visitors. Every lodge has a different flavor or atmosphere, with different customs and traditions and priorities. We should be sure to point interested men to the lodge that may be the best fit for them, or to encourage them to meet brothers from each of the relevant lodges so they can assess that best fit themselves. This can be hard to do though, especially in lodges where the degree work has been slow, but in looking at the larger picture there are clear motivations and logic that this path is best for the craft.

Our biggest membership problem is retention. Matching a petitioner to the best lodge for him by his interests and priorities will create the best opportunity for an engaging Masonic experience for him and I would expect should increase the likelihood that he will remain active in the craft.

Remember that many Masons are active in more than one lodge, either by frequent visitations and participation in the work, or by plural memberships. A new Mason in one lodge is just that, a new Mason, who benefits the craft as a whole with a reach that is, on average, broader than just his home lodge.

Also remember that every Mason is a personal representative of not just his lodge, but of the craft as a whole. Someone that connects more personally with a lodge and the brothers in it is going to be a better ambassador for the craft in his daily life, creating more opportunities for all of the lodges in the area, not just his own lodge.

Trade

Continuing the theme from above – it is not sufficient to just observe that many masons participate in multiple lodges, we should actively seek to do it. When we visit other lodges, we gain perspective on how our own lodge functions. We may discover leadership and management tools, programs, or events, that would be worth bringing back to our lodges. We may also be able to bring experiences from our own lodge to the benefit of discussion when visiting another.

Inter-lodge events, whether educational, philanthropic, or social, can all foster relationships that make our Masonic experience more valuable. Attending or participating in degrees in other lodges can give fresh perspective on the content of the degrees, and certainly helps make a deep impression on the candidate.

Indeed, visiting a lodge and meeting brothers when traveling far from home is one of the great joys of Freemasonry. The instant friendships can make anywhere feel like home, and make distant places seem a little more accessible, friendly, and navigable. These more distant visitations are some of the most enriching both because of the variety we get to learn about in the work done in the lodge, and because of the enthusiasm lodges tend to show towards visitors.

Appendant and concordant bodies like the Scottish Rite, York Rite, Eastern Star, or others also create opportunities to meet and have fellowship with a broader swath of the craft than just your home lodge.

Utility and Opportunity Cost

Utility is the value we derive from a thing, activity, or decision. Examples might be the nourishment and sustenance derived from food, the interest and safe store of value from an investment, the convenience of driving a car as opposed to riding the bus, or the pleasure and excitement of watching a football game.

Opportunity cost is the difference in value or utility between multiple choices. If I go out to eat, the money I would have saved by eating at home is an opportunity cost. Likewise, if I go to a movie, the opportunity cost might be losing the utility of the work I’d have done in the garden instead.

Life is full of tradeoffs and opportunity costs, and these can be measured in time, money, enjoyment, and many other ways. To relate this to lodge, I would simply offer that we have to make sure our meetings are what we want them to be, and they have to be of greater value, in one way or another, to the members than the things they would be doing otherwise, or the brothers won’t show up.

We all have a cable-tow that limits us, which may be comprised of obligations from many different directions, but we also value our time (or should) and want to spend it in a worthwhile, hopefully enjoyable way.

The wages of Freemasonry must include sufficient utility for brothers to want to come out. That utility might be in the personal development of Masonic education, or in the professional development of participating in the meetings or lodge leadership, the simple enjoyment of the fellowship, or simply getting out of the house.

Scarcity

“The market rewards scarcity.” Scarcity may be an inherent trait, like the amount of extractable diamond in the earth, may be caused by market factors, like the cost to extract the diamonds (derived from labor cost, the cost of equipment or chemicals, the cost to refine or transport it, etc.), or may be artificial by restricting supply, as diamond cartels do at present. When a good or service is scarce, the market tends to award it a higher price. Likewise, scarcity tends to be associated with higher value, with scarcity having its own sort of utility in the marketplace.

When we don’t do our job in guarding the west gate, it devalues the craft. If we shove a petition into the hand of a man before he can barely get his name out, what message does that send about the type of people we’re looking for? Our lodge is better off when we are selective and take the time to build relationships before handing over a petition. Petitioners too, are going to value their place in the craft more if they know they were actually deemed to be worthy, and not just passed along without judgement. I’ve touched on the west gate before, and I’m sure this won’t be the last time.

This is not to say that we should artificially make it more difficult to join than necessary, but that we should do our job to protect our lodge and the fraternity. In so doing, it does add value to the craft, both inherently in the action of doing so, and by improving the quality of the fraternity as a whole by being selective in membership.

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