110 Responses to We Shouldn’t Turn to the Church for Economic Analysis

  • I do not see that the Holy Father’s remarks go beyond the settled teaching of the Church, as contained in Pope Paul VI’s 1967 encyclical, Populorum Progressio.

    “Founded to build the kingdom of heaven on earth rather than to acquire temporal power, the Church openly avows that the two powers—Church and State—are distinct from one another; that each is supreme in its own sphere of competency. (Cf. Leo XIII, Encyc. letter Immortale Dei 🙂 But since the Church does dwell among men, she has the duty “of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. (Gaudium et Spes)”

    He goes on to say that “Everyone knows that the Fathers of the Church laid down the duty of the rich toward the poor in no uncertain terms. As St. Ambrose put it: ‘You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich.’ (De Nabute, c. 12, n. 53) These words indicate that the right to private property is not absolute and unconditional. No one may appropriate surplus goods solely for his own private use when others lack the bare necessities of life. In short, ‘as the Fathers of the Church and other eminent theologians tell us, the right of private property may never be exercised to the detriment of the common good.’ When ‘private gain and basic community needs conflict with one another,’ it is for the public authorities ‘to seek a solution to these questions, with the active involvement of individual citizens and social groups.’ (Letter to the 52nd Social Week at Brest, in L’homme et la révolution urbaine, Lyon: Chronique sociale (1965), 8-9)

    This teaching is clearly moral, not economic, and refers to the respective obligations of individuals and those in authority. When he says, “It is for the public authorities to establish and lay down the desired goals, the plans to be followed, and the methods to be used in fulfilling them; and it is also their task to stimulate the efforts of those involved in this common activity,” he is, as the Shepherd of Souls, prescribing a duty. It is a pity the bishops do not remind Catholic politicians of this duty more often.

  • I would no more go to the Church for economic analysis than I would look to an economist for an explanation of the role of grace in salvation. When the Pope reminds us all to not forget the poor or to not make money an idol he has the force of his office behind him. The following goes well beyond it:

    “In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and I the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”

    This of course is a fairly tendentious translation of what the Pope originally wrote:

    From Joe’s translation at Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam:

    “54. In this context, some defend “spillover” theories which suppose that all economic growth, for which a free market is [most] favorable, by itself brings about greater equity and social inclusion in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve confidence in the generosity of those [people] who wield economic power and in the sacralized mechanisms of that ruling economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”

    54 is rendered more acceptable to me by this new translation but still the Pope goes too far beyond his office.

    First, it is clear from this document that the Pope and basic economic knowledge are not on the friendliest of terms, to put it charitably. 204 is a doozy along those lines:

    “204. We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality. I am far from proposing an irresponsible populism, but the economy can no longer turn to remedies that are a new poison, such as attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force and thereby adding to the ranks of the excluded.”

    The Pope seems to have no understanding that the types of mandates he proposes are, to use his term, “poison” for any economic growth. The Pope confuses the functioning of markets with the use of the fruits of the market, not an uncommon mistake by socialists or those who embrace socialist superstitions and try to make economies function according to government fiat.

    Second, the Pope seems to have a very optimistic view of the ability of the State to fairly redress inequities in the marketplace. Perhaps the Pope has a “sacralized” view of those who wield the power of the State? If so, that would not be an unusual view for an Argentinian to hold in spite of the overwhelming evidence that State involvement in the Argentinian economy has produced disaster after disaster.

    However, debates about economic systems and the proper role of government intervention in the economy are areas where wise Popes have usually tread lightly because they recognized that they had no special charism to render judgments in those areas. Pope Francis, judging from Evangelii Gaudium, might not be aware that his personal opinions in these areas must be, and will be, subject to the normal give and take, even from faithful Catholics, of argument that results whenever any one proffers an opinion about the economy and the role of the State in it. When the Pope seeks to give prescriptions for the proper functioning of the economy and of the State in it he is departing from the realm of religion and entering the realm of policy and that is always a subject for debate and not mere obedience.

  • Seems as if he’s been gulled by the liberal lie that the free market (where on Earth is that operative?) causes homelessness, hunger, nakedness, poverty.

    They cannot name one major economy wherein, for the past 100+ years, the state/regime/organized brigandage hasn’t massively, and to great harm, imposed central planning, command/control-economy, excessive taxes, inflation, leviathan bureaucratic/regulatory behemoths.

    This morning, all I can think about “economics” is, “I wish I had gotten in Bitcoin at $100!” Wiping away a tear . . .

  • I am no theologian by any imaginable stretch, so I will not deign to speak on the other 199+ pages of the encyclical. But, what I see in the Pope’s touch on economics is something that would make the lefties howl if it’s read a certain way, which in this Pope’s case is pretty easy.
    .
    First, when he seems to attack free-market economics, I think it’s because we see him criticizing current economic conditions here and in Western Europe. Thus, we jump to the conclusion that he’s criticizing free-market capitalism; Holy Cow is he a Communist? No, not at all. That conclusion is incorrect, but not because of what he says. It is our other premise which renders the syllogism incorrect; we don’t have a free-market system in this country. It’s farther in that direction than a lot of the world, but it is not free-market. The Left thinks we do, and from their statist standpoint it looks like we do, but we don’t. At its heart, it is a quasi-fascist oligarchy. The currency is controlled by a central credit monopoly, and its distribution is more comparable to a command economy than an open, free marketplace where any medium of exchange that fits the value of traders’ needs would suffice.
    .
    Special regulations, anti-competitive structures, stifling tort laws, an impenetrable (and now offensive) tax code and a host of other often contradictory and oppressive regulatory layers have turned what could be a blazing fire of innovation and productivity into a smoldering heap of wet leaves. Very little trickles down anymore; in a truly free-market economy, the trickle would be upwards and outwards to begin with.
    .
    In any nation where poverty is obviously present, it is for political reasons. If people cannot find relief from poverty it is because they either cannot leave, or are paid to stay. From the extreme examples of Ethiopia and North Korea to the more subtle American welfare state, almost all poverty is created and sustained by governments, and done so for political reasons. Victim classes and red-herring martyrs play well in lapdog media cultures; this perpetuates the fiefdoms inherent in partisan politics. North Koreans and Cubans are kept poor by American Imperialist exploitation, right? Welfare rolls are kept high by white racist attitudes and lack of opportunity, as everybody knows. In fact, anybody with half a working brain knows those are derisibly false, but they play well to the sheeple who then keep the powers in place.
    .
    What does not help is that contemporary big business strategy has turned from long-term stability to a “make the next quarterly P&L sheet rock!” mentality. “Work Smarter, Not Harder” is anathema to the prospect of shared profits being divided by free choice among those who can choose to simply work hard to get ahead. “Too Big To Fail” should never be an imaginable condition. What happened to the 50-year retirement party? Sure, greater mobility and expanded capacity play a part, but folks will stay where they are happy if given half a chance. When layoffs and rolling cutbacks come and go like squalls in an Indiana spring, though, that stability is simply gone. “Golden parachute” is a concept that would make Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie stand up in their graves.
    .
    Consider this phrase in the encyclical, then: “This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and [in] the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.” It makes a lot more sense when one considers who it is that wields economic power these days. Is it the street-level proprietor, or even the small business owner? No. It is the government and its pinstripe pals who have betrayed the trust of the people to safeguard our economic capabilities and have begun to work for themselves at the expense of the rest of us.
    .
    MM’s idea that the Church should not “endorse capitalism” is backwards. In its purest form, one cannot “embrace” capitalism any more than one can endorse breathing or waking up every day. Free-market economics is a natural state, and it works best when those involved in its everyday activities embrace the teachings of the Church. MM says “The Church teaches on how we ought to treat each other as people, not what actions will result in the greatest efficiency, the greatest growth, or the greatest profit.” What he seems to miss is that those two are in fact one and the same. Gobry nails it.
    .
    I believe that His Holiness sees a lot more than he lets on, and if he’s not intentionally setting up the left-handed saps for a big fall, he’s certainly letting the “enough rope” theory do its part.

  • I think the problem with this passage is that one phrase was mistranslated from the Spanish (the proper translation would not be ‘inevitably’ but ‘in itself’ or ‘for itself’) and that the translator made use of a term from partisan opinion journalism (‘trickle-down economics’) which maps poorly to actual discourse on economic topics.

    Economic activity occurs within a context where moral choices take place, so the Pope certainly has something to say about that. Agriculture and commerce and industry are a dimension of human life and the Pope certainly has something to say about the relationship of that dimension to the other dimensions.

    Let us posit that the Pope said that markets are not omnicompetent – that the society as a whole has tasks not met through markets. That would be an unexceptional statement. The thing is, la gauche maintains in its head this caricature of the starboard which has all of us thinking like the hero in an Ayn Rand novel. Of course, hardly anyone thinks that way. That implicit caricature, along with the use of buzz terms like ‘trickle-down economics’ leads one to the conclusion that the Pope himself or his secretariat is addled by a mentality one associates with crude opinion journalists. That is disconcerting.

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  • The issue of ‘translation’ is an extremely important one. However, since others and I myself have spent some time on this aspect of the subject I would prefer to address some further concerns.

    Taking the whole “Social Teaching” of the Magisterium of the popes from the time of Leo XIII to Pope Benedict [I am leaving Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium to the side here for a moment] there can be no doubt that the Catholic Church does not believe in “Statism”, the complete monopoly of all aspects of society and culture by the State. This arose first in response to Communism, but the Fascists and National Socialists were ultimately no different. This can be seen especially in the Church’s teaching on the principle of subsidiarity, first put forward by Pope Pius IX in Quadragessimo Anno in 1931.

    There is another important point that needs to be made here, which in my reading, has become very clear. There is a certain ‘reading’ of the Social Teachings of the Church much in the same manner as some read Vatican II. To be specific, some read the publication of Populorum Progressio (and here I am not criticizing or taking a swipe at what Michael Patgerson-Seymour gives us in the above post) as a completely new start to the Social Teaching of the Church. In other words, even with the Social Teachings of the Church there is a ‘hermeneutic of rupture’ and a ‘hermeneutic of continuity’. If isolated from the rest or taken as the primary social encyclical, Populorum Progressio could and has been read in rather ‘progressive’, even ‘socialist’ terms. This is the reason Pope Benedict emphasized Populorum Progressio within the larger corpus of social teaching in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate. I have found the book, “Papal Economics: the Catholic Church on Democratic Capitalism from Rerum Novarum to Caritas in Veritate” by Macej Zieba O.P. to be extremely helpful on this subject.

    Where does this lead us? Within the Catholic theological world, and in some aspects of the Curia, there is this ‘reading’ of Populorum Progressio in an isolated way, but more specifically, in a way that makes it the key to interpreting all Social Teaching documents etc of the Church. This simply is not an accurate picture of or interpretation of Catholic Social Teaching.

    While the Church has turned away from “Statism” it is still in an active, ongoing and dynamic ‘dialogue’ with “Democratic Capitalism” and “the free market”. In this ‘dialogue’ are we, as Church, not supposed to bring our Gospel and faith to the table? Because we have turned our back on Statism does that mean we ‘must’ accept all aspects of “Democratic Capitalism” and its free market without question or critique? Certainly Blessed John Paul’s social encyclicals ‘critiqued’ Democratic Capitalism and the free market, without in any way condemning it. John Paul saw the Social Teaching of the Church as offering ‘foundational moral principles’ by which one could address, critique and dialogue with social issues and problems of the day. Pope Benedict in his single social encyclical nuanced this a bit by stating that Catholic social teaching is the proclamation of gospel charity within social settings (including economic ones)

    Pope Francis’ relatively brief pointed comments on economic issues are simply that. They are not full blown elaborated social teachings [although it will be interesting to see if and when he does indeed write a social encyclical and what and how he addresses ‘economic issues’] I see them as brief ‘prophetic statements’ meant to both probe and lift up our consciousness concerning how all of us in a global society are ‘dealing with’ ‘the market’.

    He speaks of the Golden Calf: a vivid and prophetic image, meant to ‘get the attention’. The question here is not whether I/we like what he is saying (although all of us think our own ideas are extremely important-including this writer :-)) The question is whether that image of the Golden Calf applies, is accurate, is true? I am not reading individual hearts or minds here, but we have just come out of one long weekend-one that used to be a wonderful relaxing one spent with family and friends as we gave thanks and spent quality time with each other. What did we witness? Some stores even open on Thanksgiving Day itself, taking employees away from their families (are they that different from slaves in these situations?) While in times not that long ago, this was the Christmas buying season because it was all about ‘giving’, that is now banished from all descriptions. Now it is ‘Buy, Buy Buy” For what reason? Well the supposed ‘sales’ but down deep, ‘the Gross National Product” “and the people bowed and prayed…….”

    Pope Francis placed all his comments within a call to give economic issues etc a moral underpinning and responsibility. He condemned, rightly, an ‘economics of exclusion’ and a ‘throw away culture’ (here he is not simply speaking of the waste of material things, but of vast amounts of food when people are starving, but even more importantly, people who are thrown away because they no longer ‘contribute’ economically by work or consuming because of economic status, age, health or other disabilities) The question for all of us is this: in order for us, and/or society ‘to have’ does it by logic necessitate ‘have nots’? Certainly some would answer ‘yes’ to that question. Some, perhaps most do not want to really think about this aspect of things. However, if any society in order ‘to have’ necessitates ‘have nots’, this is not simply not optimal, it is not acceptable, and not moral. It may or may not make good economic sense (however in the long haul it does not-morality is like that-it actually is trying to get us to the best result: happiness) but it is in no way acceptable or moral. All are called to participate in societal life, just as all are called to participate in Divine Life in and through Christ Jesus. No one can be excluded by this call.

    This critique of an economics of exclusion does not countenance a ‘permanent welfare state’ either. The best thing we can do for those excluded by society is to enable them to ‘get off the welfare rolls’ of society, to help them regain their sense of dignity and personal self worth, no longer ‘dependent children’ on the all-knowing welfare bureaucracy and the ruling elites who use all those in these situations to continue their power. Helping to get these people back to work, with jobs that are meaningful and thus creative and life-giving, is the outcome of the critique of the economics of exclusion.

    One final point (I know I have gone long here). Pope Francis calls not for a ‘socialist utopia’ or one Ayn Rand would love. Instead, in the issue of economics he makes a prophetic statement, really a prophetic call, calling for a world in which “Money serves, not rules”. For a people who claim “Jesus Christ is Lord”, that can not be that radical. Right?

  • The Church does not do economic analysis, but she can judge economic systems and offer principles for guidance. That is what the Holy Father did. It seems that a few are making more of these few sentences than they should.

  • Bravo Dawin! A well positioned piece. What I think we all can agree with is the continued quest and attempt to inject ethical behavior into the workplace. Yes, this is a personal trait that can be embraced or ignored … still, I stand behind the position that even when ignored and greed or immorality takes root … the market will correct itself far more efficiently than if governed. That is the freedom and trust issue that most find hard to accept.

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  • I’ve made the joke before that Catholics are to economics as Evangelicals are to evolution. The older I get, the less funny and more wry observation it seems… 😉

    But what the financial crisis has laid bare is that the most conventional version of free market economics was actually dead wrong.

    This is as annoying as hearing about how “Hoover was a do-nothing president.” (aka, it’s exactly wrong) You may as well lay the blame for Mussolini at Catholicism’s feet since hey, Rome is in Italy. Heck, one flaw about the quote is that what is “conventional wisdom” is still very much in debate. If you’re talking about conventional, Keynesian interventionism, yeah I agree that was dead wrong, but that’s not much of “free market” either.

    It would have been a pastoral, doctrinal, and theological disaster if the Church had, over the past twenty years, blindly subscribed to what I’ll now refer to as the Washington Consensus. What in 2006 looked like the invisible hand of the market leading the financialization of the economy turned out to be a disastrous instance of crony-capitalist central planning. And when the Pope denounced it, I was among those condescendingly explaining to him that he didn’t get it. What it turns out is that economists actually know very, very little, and that a lot of what we thought we knew turned out to be wrong. Given this hard-to-swallow fact, the prophetic voice of the Church that reminds us of what must be the ends of economic activity is very salutary.

    Again, depends on who you ask or talk to. Austrian-thought economists certainly came out looking a lot better than others. This is rather annoying.

    Because the Church is not on earth to conduct economic analysis and more than it is on earth to decide whether the sun is at the center of the solar system or the manner of the origin of species. Its job is not to figure out what sort of economic system will result in the highest growth or the greatest equality or any other such thing.

    Amen to that. It has no more right in those areas than say… crop production and trying to figure out what systems and fields will produce the highest yields.

    As such, the best response to Church teaching on economic interactions may not be “the state should require that everyone behave the way the Church says they should”, since that may well not have the intended consequence.

    Amen again! Though you should probably be careful which catholics you tell that too. 😉 Some think the state should very well require everyone behave the way the church wants. (looking at you T.Seber)

    If so, that would not be an unusual view for an Argentinian to hold in spite of the overwhelming evidence that State involvement in the Argentinian economy has produced disaster after disaster.

    Just because the evidence is there that the state involvement has ruined Argentinia, doesn’t mean that state involvement isn’t popular. If I can quote Radio Derb a moment:

    Sixty years ago there was a man in Argentina named Juan Perón, who made himself terrifically popular by promising everything to everyone: low taxes for businessmen, high wages for workers, political plums for the military, price supports for farmers, government jobs for intellectuals, state-subsidized health care for everyone … the whole nine yards. It worked! — for about five years. Then the bills came due, and Argentina’s been bumping along the bottom ever since, the economic wreckage occasionally stirred by a coup or revolution.

    Although I can’t find it now, I remember hearing once that Juan Peron remains very popular in Argentina (can anyone confirm/deny?). And why not? Remember that post on here awhile back about how “cargo cultish” American society has become? It’s just like that. Juan Peron’s ideas were good, so their failure was clearly the fault of… something else. It couldn’t have been because the ideas were flawed because they seemed good to the people.

    I am curious as to the Pope’s opinion on Argentina’s past. Anyone know?

    Because we have turned our back on Statism does that mean we ‘must’ accept all aspects of “Democratic Capitalism” and its free market without question or critique? Certainly Blessed John Paul’s social encyclicals ‘critiqued’ Democratic Capitalism and the free market, without in any way condemning it.

    The older I get the more it seems that every effort to find a “third way” between communism and capitalism are like efforts to find a “third way” between being a virgin and being pregnant. “Oh this time, we’ll just be a little less pregnant.” I’d have to consult some of my books but wasn’t communism once proposed as a “third way” of something. Then we got socialism (like, the mid point between communism and capitalism) now we’re talking distributionism (the mid point between socialism etc). I’m sure I’ll get to see yet ANOTHER “third way” before I die.

    Look, the free market is nothing more than the aggregate of individual actors (aka people). To think that you can somehow affect the group without bothering with every member of said group is to place everything backwards. If you want a more “just” free market (however that is defined) then the answer is simple: you must have more just people. To critique democratic capitalism for man’s sin nature is rather like critiquing Catholicism for the priest abuse. Heck to do so is to buy into the implicit assumptions of Marx, that we should remove free will and human agency from people.

    But then I’ll admit I’m still trying to cleanse myself of Marxist garbage. (a big help was realizing how steeped I was in it thanks to Sarah Hoyt here: http://accordingtohoyt.com/2013/10/16/fifty-shades-of-marx/)

    (note that all quotes in this comment are quotes quotes, not scare or sarcasm)

  • I’m a business manager. I suppose I’m one of those who, at least in my narrow field, wield economic power.

    What I’ve learned as a business manager is that you hire someone for the skills they have and you don’t expect them to do a job that they’ve never been trained to do.

    We have an elected 3rd world Pope. We did not elect an intellectual giant as in B16, nor did we get lucky in electing and grooming a blessed-fighter in JP II.

    We got a simple man, of simple and direct faith.

    He may think he can “pontificate” (I can hear my kids guffawing at that one now) on any subject he chooses, but let’s face facts: He spent most of his life in Argentina, doing daily tasks of a Bishop and not studying Western economics. He is, for lack of a better term, ill-suited to weigh-in on economics.

    The idea that the Holy Spirit would fill his mouth with amazing insights and words on the complexity of economics is a nice thought, but unrealistic.

    He ought to be told that he doesn’t know everything, and he ought to be reminded that what he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know, is the most dangerous of subjects to exhortate anyone about.

    If he limits his words and actions to the areas he knows well — we should all be very glad of the Pope we have.

    However, if he continues to wander aimlessly into woods where he knows not what ferocious beasts await him — we should not be shocked or stunned when he encounters a beast he has never met and tries to shoo-it away with a fly-swatter.

    God Bless the Pope — but more importantly, Holy Spirit fill his mind with the wisdom to know precisely what he does not know about!

  • Economic decisions, choices, actions have a moral component: they can be good or bad. It is important for us to weigh the morality of our economic decisions personally and as a society. Moral theology is not separate from any compartment of our lives; can not be separated from our politics nor from our economic life. We are called to be just and prudent in all of our ways of making a living, using our wealth or property. We can not make moral decisions blindly. The Church is our moral guide helping inform our personal political social (and of course economic) actions. Would I say the Church should not inform my politics?

  • “Would I say the Church should not inform my politics?”

    I should hope not, although I think the Church would have little to say as to most political issues, leaving that up to the wisdom of individual Catholics. I think a similar policy should be followed in economics. Making moral judgments is no excuse for people within the Church pretending to an expertise they manifestly do not possess. Christ’s comment when He was asked to command that a brother give a share of an estate to a sibling is instructive: “But he said to him: Man, who hath appointed me judge or divider over you?”

  • “I am curious as to the Pope’s opinion on Argentina’s past. Anyone know?”

    The Pope has been described as a conservative Peronist, but no facts have been brought forth in the articles I have read to support this characterization.

  • What is hard for some to understand is that the church has never accepted the notion that economics is a science. It is always treated in the social documents as a human institution. Unlike scientific laws about physics, it is not viewed as “the way things are,” such that it requires a special expertise to understand. Instead, it is viewed as the “way we made it.” The church judges economic systems like it judges political systems or cultural practices, asking “Does it conform to the Church’s understanding of the human person and, if not, what principles can guide its change?” That is basically, even if not artfully, what the Pope did.

    Understandably, to some economists this approach is absurd as the church declaring that a particular scientific theory is true or false. But, seen from the perspective of the church, it is not only not absurd, but required.

  • Good points but also: “the wisdom of individual Catholics’ — ruh roh- ! 🙂
    We need guidance. Not that it should be ex cathedra, and these ill advised (IMO) statements by the pope seem to betray a predilection and a parochialism that may be related to his home roots.
    Nonetheless there should be Catholic moral theologians studying macro economics theoretically and in history to help us all know more about how to make our choices… Economics is not a field of study that should be ignored by the Church.
    The pope is learning fast and I hope he will have the humility to recognize his need for a broad spectrum of advisors and that there will be clarifications coming that will help. The Church should not back away from such an important subject, which affects all kinds of human behaviors. Economic stress could be at he bottom of lots and lots of sinful behavior.
    As I understand your quote from Jesus, He is letting them know he is not a temporal lawyer or judge or king, as many Jews were looking for the Messiah to be, but it doesn’t mean He was saying that Christians should not be involved in civil affairs. He goes on to say immediately after that to be on guard against all kinds of greed. (Luke 12 :13 – 15)
    The covenant of love would require moral choices, using our intellects and wills to love, to will the good of others. It does not require the DIRECT involvement of the Church, but the INDIRECT effect of her teachings.

  • It is always treated in the social documents as a human institution. Unlike scientific laws about physics, it is not viewed as “the way things are,” such that it requires a special expertise to understand. Instead, it is viewed as the “way we made it.” The church judges economic systems like it judges political systems or cultural practices, asking “Does it conform to the Church’s understanding of the human person and, if not, what principles can guide its change?”

    Perhaps, but the scarcity we find ourselves in which gives rise to economics come from God’s words Himself:
    “Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
    It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
    By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
    until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
    for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

    I also recommend: http://www.scifiwright.com/2012/06/economists-and-antieconomists-2/

  • On the contrary, Catholic economists have been some of the best and most original, and historically have been suppressed. See, e.g., Frederick Soddy.

    http://www.amazon.com/Role-Money-Frederick-Soddy/dp/1245535706

    Also available as a PDF online for free.

    The role of Catholic economists is absolutely vital, now more than ever, and is needed to counter the eviscerating criminality of the international central monetary system and its banks — outright criminality and intentional fraud run rampant. We need to get a few good Catholics in there to reform the system so that money systems are not only fair and sane, but meet a baseline of legality. Nevermind the morality, just to enforce some legality would be a public good, and Pope Francis is absolutely right to draw attention to it.

  • Reading Francis’s exhortation with care (and in the light of some of the translation issues which have come up) I think it’s fairly clear that Francis is not denying the efficacy of markets as functioning economic mechanisms, but rather condemning those who imagine that because markets allow for greater growth, and growth tends to help society as a whole, that by supporting markets we have now fulfilled the whole of our obligations to our fellow men. Far from it, the fact that on average people do better in a given situation does not mean that some people are not still doing very badly, and that we have a duty to help those people in every way we can.

    Just once, I’d like to hear a priest, any priest make a similiar exhortation about supporting the social-welfare state.

    Is it really charity if Peter supports taxing Paul to pay for Philemon’s EBT card, medicaid, sec. 8 housing voucher, etc.?

  • If you want a more “just” free market (however that is defined) then the answer is simple: you must have more just people. To critique democratic capitalism for man’s sinful nature is … to buy into the implicit assumptions of Marx, that we should remove free will and human agency from people.

    .
    Yes! Or to put it more precisely, some people should remove free will and human agency from other people.
    .
    Free will is necessary for our moral agency. It is necessary to defend it as to defend hope.
    .
    The conversation about free markets runs in parallel to our understanding of free will, and the conversation about free speech.

  • Tasmin wrote, “Yes! Or to put it more precisely, some people should remove free will and human agency from other people.”
    Indeed, but the law is the expression of the general will. As Rousseau points out, “In order then that the social compact may not be an empty formula, it tacitly includes the undertaking, which alone can give force to the rest, that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free; [ce qui ne signifie autre chose sinon qu’on le forcera d’être libre] for this is the condition which, by giving each citizen to his country, secures him against all personal dependence. In this lies the key to the working of the political machine; this alone legitimises civil undertakings, which, without it, would be absurd, tyrannical, and liable to the most frightful abuses.” [Rousseau, Social Contract I, 7]

  • But the ‘law’ whether of economics or ‘the law of the land’ as an expression of the will of the people, must have some correlation with Eternal Law as it can be known ‘self-evidently’ in natural law, or given and guaranteed by Divine Law.

    We live in an era where law is interpreted in a positivist [note: not ‘positive’] way, completely cut off from the deeper moral law. Even the ancient Greeks (in their plays) and Romans in the best examples at the time of the Republic understood this. Antigone, faced with the order of the king to leave her brother’s body without burial and exposed for shame and ridicule knew she had to follow the deeper moral law to bury her brother! And these were pagans!

  • Let me go to the issue of Pope Francis’ theological training, and why, as I’ve noted above, that some of his statements are so seriously flawed that even L’Osservatore Romano criticized his Oct 1 comments with Scalfari (the atheist Italian journalist) and that the Va. website took down a number of his flawed statements (such as “the conscience is autonomous”)about Oct 2nd. Having a great deal of experience with ivory-tower professor-type Jesuits at a few Jesuit U’s, I have ample basis to see the Bergoglio papal leadership foundering on his pre-concepts—preconcepts that they (Jesuits) often toss around to each other self-congratulatingly, untested and rarified ideas that are jarringly discordant with the reality of the world. Now, the pro-Martini/Bologna school/Natl Cath Reporter-types will assail any criticism as personally “contemptuous” (not so: contempt (def) = regarding someone as inferior, base—I do not regard Bergoglio/PF this way), but I do assail his continuously flawed and un-self-critical language—which I have learned to expect from someone, who, like Bergoglio, didnt teach in a high-level theological faculty for years, where his ideas were fire-tested by smart and challenging faculty and students—such as JP2 did and BXVI did. I have pointed out again and again that he never finished his Ph.D at Frankfurt—it is well documented in German-language news sources, such as Tauber Zeitung and others. This shows to me a man who, yes he is Pope, but like Montini, he has serious deficiencies in his training that he brings to the office. The Church will therefore be affected by these deficiencies. Grace builds on nature: if the nature is flawed, the medium of grace may be correspondingly limited. Not always: there is of course a Cure d’Ars, or a Solanus Casey or Joseph of Cupertino, the latter whom couldnt pass any of his theology exams (he was reputed to have a zero on every one, poverello!). But we are in for a rough ride, and as even Lumen Gentium notes (n. 25), the Pope must teach what the CC has always taught and held. There is no other course. As for economic analysis and several other areas, I will look other than EG for guidance.

  • “that some of his statements are so seriously flawed that even L’Osservatore Romano criticized his Oct 1 comments with Scalfari (the atheist Italian journalist) and that the Va. website took down a number of his flawed statements . . .”

    Or maybe they took them down because he did not really say them?

  • Right: CTD “maybe they took them down because he did not really say them”: Now, this is what we are reduced to regarding papal statements by Pope Francis: to the actual point of claiming he didnt say what he said, which is what poor Fr Federico Lombardi had to try to floart. The last several months, usually the interpreters of Francis have been using the “What-the-Pope-REALLY-meant-was…” lead-in). (Rather like “I never said, ‘If you like your healthplan, you can keep it.'”) Let’s just face it: PF makes some really poorly based statements (look at EG for a smorgasbord of them) and it is live action now: he is the spokesman for the Catholic Faith. He brings his notable prejudices (he has said how Card. Martini was his model) to the game: and it is not pretty. He is also all over the place, as Darwin C notes, from how a homily should be said (I hope no one uses his verbosity and lack of focus as an example) to how free-markets should be [I guess] even more regulated, and beating up on the straw man of laissez-faire Gordon Gecko-types. What about the World Bank, Holy Father, who has caused so much pain to so many developing countries, and even to your own country of Argentina, with their grossly punitive monetary actions? What about the WTO, which is little more than a band of brigands, routinely penalizing the US and rewarding rogue nations? The silence is deafening.

  • But in the case of the statements allegedly to Scalfari, there were no notes or recording and it was, by Scalfari’s own admission, his paraphrasing of the Pope’s statements draw from recollection. This is one case where the evidence indicates that it is not what he said.

    I personally have no problem with attributing to the Pope statements he actually said, including Evangellii Gaudium.

  • Right. Scalfari did not say, from all the original statements I have read of his, that he did not take notes, or that he was “paraphrasing” from recollection: only that he hadnt recorded the conversation.

    Fr. Lombardi has had to do damage control on what PF reliably said:

    ‘Pressed by reporters on the reliability of the direct quotations, Lombardi said during an Oct. 2 briefing that the text accurately captured the “sense” of what the pope had said, and that if Francis felt his thought had been “gravely misrepresented,” he would have said so.’ (NCR Oct 5, 2013).

    Let’s face it: in EG, in his own words, PF makes a remarkably uncharitable swipe at the traditionals, calling them “self-absorbed promethean neo-pelagians”:”those who ultimately trust only in their won powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past (n. 94.) (gee, sounds like a lot of “Spirit-of-V2” hide-bound progressives to me..) He calls others in the Church “querulous and disillusioned pessimists”(n. 85) and defeatists, even while he says “the Christian ideal will alwyas be a summons to overcome suspicion, habitual mistrust, ..” The statements in the La Repubblica interview are not far from the un-self-critical statements he puts in black-and-white in EG Aand now we have to quibble over the “translation”? Oh, face it, this is PF himself.

  • Steve Phoenix,

    Scalfari himself described his method as paraphrasing:

    In a meeting with the journalists of the Foreign Press Association of Rome, Scalfari maintained that all his interviews have been conducted without a recording device, nor taking notes while the person is speaking.

    “I try to understand the person I am interviewing, and after that, I write his answers with my own words,” Scalfari explained.

    He conceded that it is therefore possible that “some of the Pope’s words I reported were not shared by Pope Francis.”

    In the letter, he reportedly wrote: “I must explain that I wrote up our conversation in order to let everybody understand our dialogue. Keep in mind that I did not report some things you told me and that I report some things you did not tell me, which I wanted to insert to let the reader understand who you are.”

    https://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/scalfari-confesses-popes-words-in-interview-may-not-have-been-his-own/

    Also, I want to make clear my disagreement with your assessment both of Pope Francis’s abilities as a thinker and of his exhortation. I’ve been quite impressed with the depth of the pope’s thinking, though his style is not my preferred one.

  • Yes, Scalfari said he did not take notes “while the person is speaking”, but he make a written account of what was said and present it to PF. I am equally sure it is accurate. Again, I note, as Fr. Lombardi tellingly said:

    ‘Pressed by reporters on the reliability of the direct quotations, Lombardi said during an Oct. 2 briefing that the text accurately captured the “sense” of what the pope had said, and that if Francis felt his thought had been “gravely misrepresented,” he would have said so.’ (NCR Oct 5, 2013).

    PF did not require a retraction or make a correction of these statements.

    As for Evangelium Gaudii, a meandering, unfocused, at times appears-to-be contradictory “work”, I am dismayed that a pope would “put it out” as his vision of the Church. You have got to be kidding.

  • The category mistake here is considering economics as a science like astronomy and biology, when it is really a science like psychology, sociology, anthropology. One thinks of the relation between religion and science quite differently in the two categories. In the natural sciences, morality and religion pertain primarily to the thinking of the scientist. In the human sciences, the pertain to that which is thought about, namely, human behavior.

  • No Jim Englert, economics is a hard science. Maybe it could be described as the study of the intersection of hard and soft sciences but its laws do not change based upon our whim. You can no more put an end to poverty, chickens in every pot, or healthcare for all any more than you suspend gravity or death for a day just because you find it more “just” or “right” that they not apply to us that day.

    I suggest you read the John C Wright article I linked to earlier in this thread.

  • How can any study be considered a hard science if the subject involves human behavior? Human persons are by creation body, mind, and soul (and because of the latter not subject to the material laws of creation) and by the Fall flawed in our capacities and prone to unpredictability. The presumption that we can “know” and develop a theory of man is a form of hubris and an attempt to make man God.

    I understand how non-believers can think that economics is a hard science, but the concept seems irreconcilable with Christian (and other) theologies.

  • Much of the dismal science is a hard science. For example, if the corn crop is bad the price of corn is going up. Employers are not going to pay wages which exceed the profit of their business, and if they are foolish enough to do so they will be swiftly bankrupt. Humans in their folly, collectively and individually, can attempt to ignore such aspects of econ 101, but disaster inevitably results when they do.

  • What Donald said.

    Though CTD, let’s look at some basic economic observations, and you tell me at what point man is trying to become God.

    (and most of these are quotes from: http://www.scifiwright.com/2012/06/economists-and-antieconomists-2/)
    “Humans would rather survive, than not.”
    “[Y]ou cannot keep your cake and eat it too.”
    “[T]here aint no such thing as a free lunch.”
    “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

    Finally I’ll quote JCW again as a caution that you’re being suckered in by a heresy:

    This is why discussions between Marxists and economists are mostly fruitless. One side, the economists, regards the subject matter as a matter of scientific logic, able to be rationally debated with reference to reality; whereas the other side, the so-called scientific socialists, regards the subject matter as an epiphenomenon of psychological defects on the part of the Benighted, and psychological perfection or enlightenment on the part of the Elect, and no rational debate is possible or even needed, because reality is a fluid waste-product of a materialist dialectic unfolding with the inevitability of Calvinist double predestination throughout the stages of history.

  • Some of those statements are not necessarily true. But even if we accept what they purport to mean, they are mostly statements of mathematics, not economics.

    In any event, the Church clearly view economics as a branch of moral philosophy because of her understanding of the human person as revealed by God, unlike her approach to sciences like astronomy and biology. For the Catholic, any attempt to develop a theory of man (including his behavior) absent Revelation is heresy.

  • Some of those statements are not necessarily true.

    Oh this should be entertaining. Do tell. Please, be specific and cite examples.

    But even if we accept what they purport to mean, they are mostly statements of mathematics, not economics.

    …Yeah, so guess what economics deal a lot with.

    Again to quote: “Economics studies the invariant relations of cause and effect surrounding human action, particularly economic phenomena. Economists deal with categories like cause and effect, cost and benefit, barter, currency, scarcity, priority, price, interest, time-preference, trade barriers, transaction costs, and so on and on. There are invariants in the phenomena that fit these categories.”

    For the Catholic, any attempt to develop a theory of man (including his behavior) absent Revelation is heresy.

    So according to you, biology and medical science must be the worst heresies ever invented.

  • “So according to you, biology and medical science must be the worst heresies ever invented.”

    Now you’re not even paying attention to what I’m writing.

    Nor are you addressing the fundamental issue: How do you square your view of economics as a hard science with the church’s view of it as subject of moral philosophy (see Caritas in Veritate and the Compendium of Social Doctrine, to name a few)?

    If you don’t accept the church’s view, so be it. But for the Catholic, the only question is whether Pope Francis’ comments are consistent with what the church has previously taught. Whether they agree with a non-theistic view of economics is not much of an issue and perhaps dangerous because it, like Marxism, would embrace a flawed understanding of the human person.

  • I would say that this quote of Saint Augustine is apropros in regard to much of economics:

    “Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.”

    Rubbish in economic matters is rubbish no matter what sort of wrapper is put around the rubbish.

  • What did I say earlier? “Catholics are to economics as Evangelicals are to evolution.” Keep proving it, CTD.

    Nor are you addressing the fundamental issue: How do you square your view of economics as a hard science with the church’s view of it as subject of moral philosophy (see Caritas in Veritate and the Compendium of Social Doctrine, to name a few)?

    Pretty much what Donald said. It’s not “my view” it’s a question of, “is it true” whether economics is a (fairly) hard science or not. If the Church wants to set itself up as reality based or truth based or whatever, then that means its views and doctrines must change if reality contradicts them.

  • Imagine if the Pope’s economics began and ended with an exhortation to refrain from coveting thy neighbor’s goods. Oh, but that sounds too much like Ayn Rand so we mustn’t have any of that.

  • “Imagine if the Pope’s economics began and ended with an exhortation to refrain from coveting thy neighbor’s goods”

    Isn’t there a Commandment on that?

    Oh wait! I forgot! The gospel of social justice, the common good and peace at any price negate the Ten Commandments. It’s OK to steal from him who works to give to him who refuses to work.

  • Most of us would probably agree that the study and/or application of economics is more akin to say, the study of personal health — where the amount of dynamic variables is so massive as to make isolation of any one difficult. Our health is affected by our behaviors, our genetic makeup, our environment, our social order, etc. There maybe scientific realities present, but the sum aggregation of so many dynamic happenings clouds their unique performance. God tells us our bodies are sacred. We can surmise God wishes our health to be optimal. Similarly, the laws and application of economics occur. If economic levels are to be optimized, many of believe that this is best achieved with a free enterprise in place (with the right amount of property rights and governance). Many would also say that this freedom is also the most just and treats the individual (and their rights) with far more respect than that of big brother’s controlling hand. So then, as the church is not the keeper of an specific economic dogma — she can speak of individual economic desires … the “science” needed to achieve it is wide open.

  • “an epiphenomenon of psychological defects on the part of the Benighted, and psychological perfection or enlightenment on the part of the Elect, and no rational debate is possible or even needed, because reality is a fluid waste-product of a materialist dialectic unfolding with the inevitability of Calvinist double predestination throughout the stages of history.”

    I am putting this on a t-shirt. Good thing I wear a XXl.

  • “Imagine if the Pope’s economics began and ended with an exhortation to refrain from coveting thy neighbor’s goods”

    Indeed, but what if my neighbour has filched them from the common stock? St Ambrose teaches, “”You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich.”

    Similarly, commenting on the gleaning laws (Lev. xix. 9, 10 and Deut. xxiv. 20, 21) the learned Rollin remarks that,” God has not only given the poor the power to gather grapes in the vineyards and to glean in the fields and to take away whole sheaves but has also granted to every passer-by without distinction the freedom to enter as often as he likes the vineyard of another person and to eat as many grapes as he wants, in spite of the owner of the vineyard. God Himself gives the first reason for this. It is that the land of Israel belonged to Him and that the Israelites enjoyed possession of it only on that onerous condition.”

  • Indeed, but what if my neighbour has filched them from the common stock? St Ambrose teaches, “”You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich.”

    1) Tragedy of the commons.
    2) What is the “common stock”? How is such even determined?

  • “1) Tragedy of the commons.
    2) What is the “common stock”? How is such even determined?”

    Are you denying the Church’s teaching on the universal destination of goods?

  • Nate Winchester and ctd

    I have myself been caught up in conversations that turned into debates on this blog. Reading both of you I am wondering if you are saying similar things but are like two ships passing in the night.

    Nate if I am correct you are saying economics is indeed a hard science

    ctd you are saying that economic issues lie within the Church’s moral theology

    first am I correct in my descriptions for each of you?

    My second comment would then be this

    If economics is a hard science does that mean there are no moral dimensions to it, as we see for example in astronomy’s studies of Quasars and Black Holes or Physics studying String Theory? If I am correct this might zero in on the central issue.

    Of course I also could be wrong and pardon me for this intrusion 😉

  • “ctd you are saying that economic issues lie within the Church’s moral theology.”

    Yes. Though to be more accurate, I am saying that the Church herself says that.

  • Good distinctions, Botolph.

    I’d add: Even a hard science clearly has moral implications. For instance, it is unquestionably a matter of hard science whether the atom can be split, a fission chain reaction can be created, and thus whether it is possible to build a nuclear bomb. However, it is a moral question whether it is right to drop that bomb on a city.

    Also, if this isn’t just muddying things further, I’d argue that economics acts like a hard science most of the time. For instance, it’s a general rule that if some commodity is scarce (call it chocolate chip cookies) and everyone wants it, the price will go up until enough people are priced out of the market to reach a point of stablization. If you artificially limit the price at a “fair” one below the market price, you cause a shortage (people will snap them up at the low price, then hoard them or sell them off at higher prices via a secondary market.)

    However, all of this falls within a “all other things remaining equal” qualifier which accounts for potential changes in human behavior. Sometimes, due to cultural and moral values or other factors, a society will regulate itself in other ways. So, for instance, it could be that instead of snapping up all the cookies and starting a black market, strong cultural and moral forces will come into play causing people to find some way of distributing the cookies without hitting a shortage.

    That said, “all other things being equal” often works in the short run within a given cultural context, and so it’s possible to act as if economics is a hard science within certain limits, and to do so without in any way either prohibiting the Church from speaking on the morality of personal actions within the marketplace, or denying human free will and moral agency.

  • St Thomas teaches “Community of goods is ascribed to the natural law, not that the natural law dictates that all things should be possessed in common and that nothing should be possessed as one’s own: but because the division of possessions is not according to the natural law, but rather arose from human agreement which belongs to positive law, as stated above (57, 2,3). Hence the ownership of possessions is not contrary to the natural law, but an addition thereto devised by human reason.” [ST IIa IIae Q66, II,obj 1]

    Thus, as Mirabeau explains, “Property is a social creation. The laws not only protect and maintain property; they bring it into being; they determine its scope and the extent that it occupies in the rights of the citizens.” So, too, Robespierre, “In defining liberty, the first of man’s needs, the most sacred of his natural rights, we have said, quite correctly, that its limit is to be found in the rights of others. Why have you not applied this principle to property, which is a social institution, as if natural laws were less inviolable than human conventions?”

    The gleaning laws, cited above, and which formed part of the civil law of the Jewish commonwealth, are an excellent example of such a modification. No doubt, the wisdom of legislators could suggest others.

  • “If economics is a hard science does that mean there are no moral dimensions to it”

    There are moral dimensions to most things that humans engage in. A Pope may well preach to a group of plumbers that they must not overcharge for their work, but if he then goes on to tell them how to fix a leaky faucet he better have technical knowledge in that field. God does not grant the Popes an elastic infallibility that allows statements on technical areas to be without flaw simply because a Pope can work a moral flag in there somewhere. For example, a Pope may decry high unemployment as a moral evil. If he then attempts to prescribe how the unemployed should be put to work his policy suggestions are not infallible and are subject to the give and take of argument as with the policy ideas of everyone else.

  • Many excellent comments here. As a long-time student of economics, I would side with those who point out that the field is fundamentally a social science that predicts human behavior based on three assumptions: perfect information; perfect rational behavior; and self-interest. These are useful assumptions, but of course simplistic. The first two are simply never true and the last is impossible to define given different human priorities. Moreover, properly understood the last often does (and always should) embody more than material or economic self-interest, but must accomodate transcendent values such as concern for others. While the free-market certainly accommodates charitable works and gifts, it has no mechanism to predict such things.

    Personally, I agree with and applaud Darwin’s post (especially the next to last paragraph) as well as Art Deco’s comment of Tuesday morning. The danger of free markets rests with those adherants who understand them as somehow mechanically yielding perfectly just outcomes. Of course they don’t. Just because I can pay someone less than a living wage, doesn’t mean that I always should. It depends on a lot of things — things that no government bureaucracy will ever be able to evaluate effectively, but things that each of us daily have a duty to evaluate as best we can.

    I would also add that the injunction that goods belong to all must be understood as applying only to true necessities. This injunction has much more practical force with respect to the West’s relationship with parts of Africa and Central America than it does with the present US welfare state. Properly understood this injunction has nothing to do with wealth or income disparity as such, and the extent to which government taxation policy is an appropriate instrument for delivering on this injunction is a matter of prudential judgment, but even this very conservative (social and economic) Catholic acknowledges that there is nothing morally wrong for a free society to choose tax and government policy to execute on this injunction properly understood.

    Finally, I also emphatically agree that our Holy Father seems a bit too eager to speak loosely about things he fails to fully understand. Coercive government policies designed to help the poor often backfire horribly, and it is of little comfort to those harmed to remind them we meant well. Being smart and well-intended, is not substitute for being right and well-informed.

  • Another aspect we all know, but has not been discussed specifically … is the viewpoint of “macro” vs “micro” economics. Most of our principals center around the marco side (all of which direct the micro in effects) — yet — any church teaching and PF care only about the micro (specifically the individual). Most statements are proclaimed to the micro-side of the equation. Yet, the debate rages on as to the macro policies that should best be used to generate the results.

  • Darwin and Donald,

    Thanks for your posts. Darwin you further developed and did not muddy the waters at all-at least for me. And Donald, you need to know that indeed I would not call PF if I needed a plumber (surprised lol?)

    Thanks to all posting. Economics is not my field. I am learning something on almost each post. I obviously do believe that economic issues have moral dimensions and therefore the Church is called to be involved and speak. I agree however, that bishops statements for a particular economic bill can be too specific and, yes, even over reaching. As for PF, I am not convinced he over reached on the overall economic material in EG, however I am also still waiting for a clarification on the translation of that material as well.

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  • Economics, Nate Winchester, may well be a difficult science, but it is not a ‘hard’ science. Being other than that does not mean it amounts to nothing more than whims. Psychology and sociology are more than whim-sical. What economics has in common with them is that its subject matter pertains to human behavior, i.e., meanings and values.

    There are differences among physicists and biologists. Yet if one happens upon a discussion among randomly gathered physicists or biologists, after having been involved in a similar discussion among psychologists, one will be struck by what will now appear to be the virtual unanimity of physics.

    Randomly gathered economists in conversation would resemble one of these prior conversations far more than the other.

    The ‘laws’ of economics pertain to real social and cultural contexts. Given the context of resources, institutions, personality-structures, etc., that have emerged from innumerable patterns of human choices over a long haul, yes, regularities (‘laws,’ if you prefer) arise. But they are not some universal truth. Nothing comparable to understanding the fundamental nature of physical energy.

    Economic ‘laws’ may tell us about a great deal about how things actually work in a given complex nest of human meanings and values. They tell us nothing, though, about whether those meanings and values are really human. Here, the likes of popes can come in handy.

  • “They tell us nothing, though, about whether those meanings and values are really human. Here, the likes of popes can come in handy.”

    The likes of a pope will not alter the law of supply and demand or the law that markets are the best mechanism to meet the material needs of most people.

  • I’d add: Even a hard science clearly has moral implications. For instance, it is unquestionably a matter of hard science whether the atom can be split, a fission chain reaction can be created, and thus whether it is possible to build a nuclear bomb. However, it is a moral question whether it is right to drop that bomb on a city.

    Hah, Darwin I was about to use that very example and you beat me to it. So what he said.

    As a long-time student of economics,…Of course they don’t. Just because I can pay someone less than a living wage, doesn’t mean that I always should.

    It’s hard to believe anyone that claims to “study economics” when they then use “living wage” unironically.

    Economics, Nate Winchester, may well be a difficult science, but it is not a ‘hard’ science. Being other than that does not mean it amounts to nothing more than whims. Psychology and sociology are more than whim-sical. What economics has in common with them is that its subject matter pertains to human behavior, i.e., meanings and values.

    But they are not some universal truth. Nothing comparable to understanding the fundamental nature of physical energy.

    Oh right, because I forgot it was only up to our whim that crops grow and animals hop onto our plate. Why, if you’ve got 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, and 7,000 people to feed, it’s only whim that keeps everyone from eating their fill.

    No it is not “whim” that drive economics. It’s Genesis 3:19- “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food”. The pope can’t make crops grow by standing in the field and preaching to the seed that the poor must be fed. Bishops can’t preach to the flock of chickens about the needs of man and have the flock run off to pluck themselves and throw themselves into the cooking pots of every house in the world. A newborn babe left in the woods does not have food fall on it and a shelter extend over it just because it is human and has rights. To decide that all this work and effort reality requires is a “whim”… well I guess opting to die is always an option but then there’s no need to further address you is there?

    Economic ‘laws’ may tell us about a great deal about how things actually work in a given complex nest of human meanings and values. They tell us nothing, though, about whether those meanings and values are really human. Here, the likes of popes can come in handy.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You don’t have to take my word for it, read John C Wright’s essay: http://www.scifiwright.com/2012/06/economists-and-antieconomists-2/ He’s a far better, wiser (plus Catholic) man than me. Like he points out, it doesn’t matter whether a human is involved or not. Even an alien from the other side of the galaxy will be bound by the same economic laws that we are and can no more escape them “by whim” than we can.

  • So, I read Wright. If SciFi dude is your thing, go for it. Not mine.

    Two simple points, and then a reading suggestion of my own.

    Wright’s wrong, I think, in his behavioral reductionism, i.e., understanding human behavior straightforwardly in terms of cause and effect. If Wright’s right, then so was B.F. Skinner, and we should all just move into Walden Two. I think he’s wrong. I think meanings and values are realities — a truly human ontology — and that they comprise a third thing between cause and effect. You do catch the Geist of our Zeit, though, in positing cause-effect reductionism. Here in the economic sphere. Many do so in the sexual sphere, others the military. . .

    Secondly, by inserting Wright’s essay into this conversation, you insert Marx by invisible (sleight of) hand, as it were. This reduces the discussion to an either/or: Marxism or markets. Leave the bogeyman out of it, though, and intelligent — perhaps even reasonable and responsible — conversation is possible. If you insist on reducing all to the dualism, all that’s left is ideological squabbling. Whoever ‘wins’ such, yippie.

    To concretize this, take a topic much talked about these days: health care. If one insists on purity of market forces, this scenario unfolds: I’m having a heart attack, I go to the hospital; I have no insurance, no money, no reasonable hope of having the requisite resources to pay later for the care I need now. Market forces have no way to ‘value’ my life, to find it ‘meaningful.’ But even people who talk a great deal about ‘market solutions’ to health care, don’t really mean it; at least most don’t. They recognize that this is different than if I need a car, go to a dealership, without money, without credit, but truly do ‘need’ the car. Most people recognize a difference between the two scenarios, and that difference is not a matter of cause and effect, it’s not a matter of market forces, it’s a matter of an underlying human consensus of meaning and value of what kind of society we want to live in. Our disagreements in this regard don’t tend to be between Marx and the markets, as Wright would have it, but, rather, about ‘how much’ and ‘how’ to limit/shape/direct market forces in terms of the meanings and values we manage to share, which we call ‘culture.’

    Pope Francis isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, a Marxist. But he isn’t a free-marketeer, either. What he’s raising are questions of culture — both the content of the meanings and values that are constitutive of our human existence, and the manner in which that content renders economic exchange a bit more complex than cause-and-effect.

    What shapes my reading of Francis is what meager understanding I’ve managed to attain of Karl Polanyi’s “The Great Transformation.” His understanding of the rupture in European society and culture attendant upon the industrial revolution is not without value in attempting to understand what is happening in societies and cultures of the Southern hemisphere as they are ‘drawn’ (others would say ‘sucked’) into the neoliberal system.

    Wright’s idealized market produces the best material life for the most people. But even if one grants that — which I don’t when stated as bluntly and blandly as he did — but even if one does, the question remains: what of those who are not among ‘the most’? It may be possible to demonstrate that the disruptions of social and cultural patterns of living that have occurred have reduced rates of ‘poverty,’ but they have also transformed the meaning of poverty. Subsistence farm families living around villages may well have been ‘poor,’ but there was ‘wealth’ there, too, but not wealth as quantifiable by Friedman’s boys. When that land is taken by large market forces, these persons/families/communities are dislocated into the very different poverty of the urban barrios.

    Pope Francis knows something of that great transformation, that disruption, that neither you nor your auctoritas seem to know. Marketeers who speak Schumpeter’s phrase, “creative destruction,” attend too little to what is being destroyed: persons, families, communities. Their glib speech seems the identical twin of Stalin’s remark that in order to make an omelet, you need to break a few eggs. The real difference between Milton Friedman and Josef Stalin simply pertains to who gets to break the eggs and who gets to eat the omelet. The pope simply understands that persons, families and communities are neither eggs nor omelets. And he invites us to that understanding. A bit much to ask of some, perhaps

  • “The real difference between Milton Friedman and Josef Stalin simply pertains to who gets to break the eggs and who gets to eat the omelet.”

    That and some 50 million dead Soviets. And freedom. And no persecution of the Church. And no Gulags. And—but I think you get the idea.

  • So, I read Wright. If SciFi dude is your thing, go for it. Not mine.

    Oh look, ad hominem. “Well if the pope dude is your thing, go for it. Not mine.” See? I can do it too. Of course most people realize that truth is true no matter who says it. Two plus two always remains four whether Wright, the Pope or even Hitler says it. I mostly refer to John because he’s far more eloquent than I.

    Wright’s wrong, I think, in his behavioral reductionism, i.e., understanding human behavior straightforwardly in terms of cause and effect. If Wright’s right, then so was B.F. Skinner, and we should all just move into Walden Two. I think he’s wrong. I think meanings and values are realities — a truly human ontology — and that they comprise a third thing between cause and effect.

    That’s not… look: Cause- You ate all your seed corn. Effect- You got no corn to grow next year, hope you enjoy starving, idiot! Now I’m really interested in what “third thing” is somehow going to come between that cause and effect which will magically plant corn in your field and cause it to grow. That’s all economics is. You ate your seed corn. Well you’re going to die unless you do something else. You’re going to have to get some more seed corn from somewhere or someone whether by purchase, foraging, robbery or donation. But if nothing is done, the effect is obvious: starvation. If you’ve got some proof or evidence that there’s another option, then by all means share since it means you’ve hacked reality.

    Secondly, by inserting Wright’s essay into this conversation, you insert Marx by invisible (sleight of) hand, as it were. This reduces the discussion to an either/or: Marxism or markets. Leave the bogeyman out of it, though, and intelligent — perhaps even reasonable and responsible — conversation is possible. If you insist on reducing all to the dualism, all that’s left is ideological squabbling. Whoever ‘wins’ such, yippie.

    It’s as much “either/or” as any discussion is an either/or. Either something is true, or it’s a lie. To toss that out is to make conversation impossible. Either control, or freedom. There’s no third way, only how far along the spectrum you are towards one or the other. You may as well argue that we can do without the dualism of God and Satan.

    To concretize this, take a topic much talked about these days: health care.

    Oh goody, this is going to be a laugh.

    If one insists on purity of market forces, this scenario unfolds: I’m having a heart attack, I go to the hospital; I have no insurance, no money, no reasonable hope of having the requisite resources to pay later for the care I need now.

    No, let’s be realistic and expand the scenario. You and six other people are having heart attacks and go to the hospital. There’s only 2 doctors available. Let’s say that for all 7 of you, if treatment isn’t started within the next 20 minutes, you’ll die. However, once treatment begins, it cannot be stopped or paused until 15 minutes (at which point patient is “stabilized”). So tell me, only 4 of you can be saved out of 7. Which 4 should it be? How should such be determined? And remember, you’ve only got around 4 extra minutes to decide. Heck I’ve spent a lot of time around emergency rooms because of past jobs, there are usually a lot of people waiting in there. Why should you or anyone else have priority over any other patient? Is your heart attack more of a concern than someone else’s stroke? Chop chop Jim because you don’t have weeks to figure this out, you have seconds.

    Market forces have no way to ‘value’ my life, to find it ‘meaningful.’

    I have news for you: the WORLD doesn’t value your life or find it meaningful. If you are trapped on a deserted island, will fresh water burst from the ground at your feet when you’re thirsty? Will food fall out of the sky when you’re hungry? Will the weather avoid the island so it doesn’t damage poor valuable you with exposure?

    You can climb to the top of any mountain and cry out to the heavens about your value and meaning all you want, and it won’t put food in your belly, water on your lips or shelter over your head. God warned us of such at the very beginning when Adam screwed up.

    Most people recognize a difference between the two scenarios, and that difference is not a matter of cause and effect, it’s not a matter of market forces, it’s a matter of an underlying human consensus of meaning and value of what kind of society we want to live in. Our disagreements in this regard don’t tend to be between Marx and the markets, as Wright would have it, but, rather, about ‘how much’ and ‘how’ to limit/shape/direct market forces in terms of the meanings and values we manage to share, which we call ‘culture.’

    It is as much a matter of cause and effect as going to an empty car lot and not getting a car is. You’ve done nothing to answer the essential question. Where do the doctors come from? Their time is finite, they cannot be in two places at once so how do you pick which patient is seen before the others? Do you use this tonnage of iron to make scalpels or needles or hospital beds? Should you send this ambulance to the east side of town or the west for this patient?

    You can “feel” and “value” however you want. Everyone in the entire world can feel and value however they want but it won’t produce a new scalpel, train a new doctor, or build a second ambulance. And until you grasp this fact, you may as well propose that patients be brought to the hospital via unicorn.

    The rest of your post is just utter insanity but I have to clarify one thing:

    Marketeers who speak Schumpeter’s phrase, “creative destruction,” attend too little to what is being destroyed: persons, families, communities.

    No, “creative destruction” is just businesses going out of businesses. Besides what’s the alternative? Say we have a buggy whip factory right as the car is becoming popular. Oh but according to you, we can’t close this factory down, that would be too disruptive to the “community” and “families”. So then what? Every piece of leather sent to that factory to be turned into a buggy whip (which no one wants) is a piece of leather not going to say… a hospital for its supplies. And where is the money to pay the workers going to come from? Are you going to make buying buggy whips mandatory? Just send straight tax money to the workers? (at which point, why not set them to digging & filling ditches?)

    See? No matter what, any time someone says the markets need to be just a little less free, they always end up a shade of Marx.

    Pardon me, but I prefer to deal with reality, and currently free markets are by far the greatest tool we have to do so.

  • Jim,
    I agree with much of what you wrote. But like Donald, I think you are being quite unfair to Friedman. Friedman did think that generally speaking the gent who feeds the chickens, harvests the eggs, and makes the omelet is entitled to eat the omelet, but he would also agree with that sharing the omelet with a gent who is truly hungry (as opposed to ready for dinner) is a moral good. He would generally (though not dogmatically — after all he was the first proponent of a negative income tax) object to the idea that it is appropriate to force the first gent to feed the second gent, but it is an injustice to confuse Friedman with Ayn Rand. Friedman never objected to the idea that moral goods can and should transcend markets; he simply believed that the dignity of man requires the liberty to do good, and liberty cannot be squared with coercion. Moreover, he was a pragmatist in that he understood that economic liberty does a better job of distributing omelets, especially to those who are hungry, than command economies and redistribution schemes.

  • Nate,
    Believe what you wish, but I received my BA in economics in 1979 and though now concentrate in the field of taxation, I’ve never lost interest.
    Let me share a story with you. In 1973 a 16year-old young man worked as a short order cook at an A&W on Chicago’s southwest side. The $1.30 per hour he earned was important to him since he was trying to pay for his Catholic high school tuition. One day that young man discovered that his co-worker was earning $1.80 per hour even though he performed the same tasks, was not superior in the execution of those tasks, and had comparable seniority. That young man then demanded an explanation from the owner, who told him, “you do realize that Mark’s father has passed and he is supporting his mother and little sister, don’t you”? I (yes that young man was me) learned an important lesson that day. Yes, the owner did not have to pay Mark extra; but he did it because it was right. I would never want to government to regulate such things, but human decisions, while necessarily influenced by markets, are not always ruled by them. Free markets allocate resources in a way that allows for much higher living standards generally, but when markets are free participants can make decisions that transcend simple market forces, and that is a good thing.

  • In addition to Jim’s excellent comments, I think he touches upon the problem – reductionism. From the Catholic perspective nothing is just its material (or cause and effect, etc). Corn is not just food, omelets are not just omelets, health care is not just a procedure, work is not just work, and so on. As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church explains everything, especially anything related to human activity, has a value that cannot be reduced to its mere materials or instrumentality. Because it is a human activity, reducing economics to mere laws of science void of any value ultimately diminishes the human person and denies the Incarnation.

  • “Because it is a human activity, reducing economics to mere laws of science void of any value ultimately diminishes the human person and denies the Incarnation.”

    All science involves human activity. Most economic activities, for example farming, involve the application of science. To warn when people make proposals that fly in the face of science or simple common sense does not “diminish the human person” or “denies the Incarnation” but rather is the admirable trait of calling malarkey malarkey, no matter who is spouting it. God is ill served when people forego the brains He gave us because someone in authority is saying something stupid and it is being bruited about that we have a religious duty to agree with the stupid thing just said.

    Judging from this quote I suspect that Pope Francis might agree with the sentiments expressed above: “Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy.”

  • Too many currents aswirl here for a mediocre swimmer like me to manage, but I’ll try a few strokes.

    My “SciFi dude” condescension was wrong, as ad hominems tend to be. I should have simply said this: I find his essay neither insightful nor eloquent. Here’s a kernel, at least, of why I render this judgment. If you are going to speak of Martians being subject to economic laws — especially if you are a Catholic doing so — isn’t it essential to ask at least these questions: (1) Have Martians experienced a Fall? Or is their’s a non-lapsarian existence? (2) If they are fallen, have they been sent a Savior? Have they heard a Word? (3) Are they like humans, each a member of a common species? Or are they like angels, each a separate species?

    And would not such questions matter in thinking about whether they would be subject to the same economic ‘laws’ as humans? I didn’t introduce the Martians. But if they’re going to be brought into the conversation, these questions seem urgent and apt. One can presume that Martians will be subject to the ‘law’ of gravity without such inquiry. But not economic ‘law.’ And this is to the point of ‘placing’ economics as a science. Neither Fall nor Redemption nor sharing “common destiny” (de Lubac) as a species pertains to the hard sciences. Each pertains integrally, though, to psychology, sociology, anthropology. . . and economics.

    As for this assertion — “You may as well argue that we can do without the dualism of God and Satan” — we, indeed, had better be able to do without it. There is no such dualism. And to posit the existence of such is heresy. Yet Manichee seems ever among us.

    I note, Nate, that you complicated my medical question. But never answered it. The world may be, as you insist, indifferent to the value of my life. Our society, though, is not. There is an insistence on care, even for the indigent. And that insistence comes from no market forces, but from a tempering of those forces by both law and custom. That both such law and custom are susceptible to erosion is evident in the place of abortion in our social and cultural life. That development is probably a good thing for the health of markets; it is decidedly not a good thing for the health of our society and culture. And the more we cede care of health and life solely to market dictates, further such erosion seems likely.

    Mike and Donald, you rightly castigate my careless besmirching of Friedman. I used the name as a cipher, which one should never do to a human person, living or dead. Behind the rhetorical excess, though, lies an insistence that there is a market ideology, as well as a Marxist one. Both deal death. Scale and scope are different, and my rhetoric can be read as minimizing the Stalinist horrors — an inexcusable lapse. Having done so distracted from my intended point that there have been horrors aplenty in the Latin American experience of neo-liberal economics. One can speak of ‘democratic capitalism,’ but in the experience of many in these societies it was not democratically chosen, but imposed. One need not embrace the entire thrust of Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine” to accept that much of her analysis of the role of torture and death squads in that imposition is on target.

    Which brings me full circle back, Nate, to “creative destruction.” I did not argue that there is no point, no truth, in the phrase. I did — and do — argue that all too often it is used all too glibly. Catholicism treasures continuity and tradition, not just in doctrine and ritual, but in life. Is leery of ruptures in all these spheres. This doesn’t mean that there should never be such destruction or ruptures. But the Catholic sensibility that has been given to me, handed on to me, as such a great grace, is suspicious of such, and glib speech about such grates.

  • There are a couple different apologias for market forces going on here, so what I say may not apply to all others’ beliefs, but here goes:

    I would argue that economic “laws” are dependent really on just two things:
    1) No one is capable of having perfect information in a complex system, because there is simply too much to know
    2) Scarce resources

    I suppose whether these would apply to Martians with an unfallen nature depends on what you imagine an unfallen nature to be like. For instance, could an unfallen Martian still be injured and need medical care? Would an unfallen Martian still need to consume resources (such as food) to stay alive? Would an unfallen Martian be all knowing?

    Let’s imagine that unfallen Martians are much like us in their needs and capacity for knowledge, but that they have complete and perfect love for one another. A Martian miner is mining and refining graphite. He sells it to Martians who make pencils and Martians who make tennis rackets. (Tennis is very popular on Mars due to the slightly lower gravity.)

    Then, a Martian invents a medical device which performs some wonderful function, but making it in sufficiently quantity to take care of all those who need it will use up 40% of the annual supply of graphite. How are the Martians to allocate the remaining 60% of graphite between the pencil and racket makers? They could cut back the supply to both equally, but how do they know whether Martians value graphite pencils or graphite rackets more? And it’s harder than that, what if some Martians are happy to switch to graphite substitute pencils, but others value graphite pencils very much. And some Martian tennis players are happy to switch to steel rimmed rackets, but others would give up much to keep buying graphite? They can never gather enough information to understand the exact preferences of every Martian on the topic, nor can each Martian end-consumer know exactly how highly he or she values graphite products compared to all the others. But there is one very simple thing they can do: Raise the price of graphite pens and graphite rackets and allow individual Martians to decide whether the products are still worth buying at the new price. After a brief period of price turbulence, both products will reach a new stable price point and only those Martians who place that much value on the products will continue to buy them.

    In other words, they can solve the problem by having a market. And although unfallen persons might treat each other very differently at a personal level, the market workings in an unfallen world would be pretty similar: more scarce resources would increase in price and more common resources would decrease in price, providing market actors with the information they needed to decide what to acquire and what not to.

    Now let’s go back to our own fallen world and Jim arriving at the hospital.

    I would argue that his inability to pay does not preclude his treatment in a market system any more than a market system precludes my painting my mother’s living room without charging her for my labor. The hospital and doctor are in possession of resources (time, space and supplies) and they are fully capable (and, indeed, legally and morally required) of using those resources to help a person who comes in in need of lifesaving treatment.

    One could imagine a “market ideology” which held that there is a moral norm that one should never do anything unless one earns money by doing so, but economic laws certainly do not contain any such ideology any more than the law of gravitation requires that we throw collies off fire escapes.

    What economic laws do mean is that the time of the doctors and the resources of the hospital have to come from somewhere, at at some level (via prices) they have to tie to the value that we put on the care being given. Sure, someone will say that every life has infinite worth, but this isn’t actually true in terms of time and resources. Imagine that you stumble into the ER with a life threatening ailment which the doctors can heal, but only if every doctor within a 100 mile radius comes and spends the next week working on it, leaving all other patients untreated. Should that happen? No. And in economic terms the reason is because society cannot “afford” that. Society can and should allocate resources (wether by taxing and spending or by charity or by requiring that doctors provide free care to the indigent and make it up by charging everyone else more) to provide necessary care to the indigent. But there is the limit to how much care can be provided, and that limit is set by the amount of resource that society is able to devote to that. In market terms “how much it costs”.

    Economics simply tells us that if a doctor spends half his time treating people who can’t pay that either:
    – He will make half as much as if he had all paying patients
    – Someone else will have to pay him on behalf of those who can’t pay
    – Other people will have to provide him with “free” goods and services to make up for the goods and services he can’t afford to buy because he wasn’t paid for half his work

    Economics does not tell us whether or not the doctor should treat someone who comes in but has no money. It just tells us the consequences of his doing so.

  • Excellent comment as always, Darwin.

  • I’d argue that economics acts like a hard science most of the time.

     

    I would argue that economics is also inherently deceptive most of the time, surpassing even statistics in its mendacity. in ways that real hard sciences are not. Physics or chemistry does not involve any “should” or any moral imperative. As important as those are, they are strictly “meta” to the subject being studied. Economists, on the other hand, are always too ready to tack on a “therefore, we should…” statement far too early in their “research”, if only implicitly, and ultimately that’s what they end up arguing about.

     

    As Jim and Nate’s discussion over emergency health care shows, there is no way to deal with such matters without a specific context and scope. I am also reminded of the turnaround regarding immigration made by what I’ll the call the gravitational center of conservative opinion. Once upon a time, mainstream conservatism was strongly pro-immigration. Nowadays, conservatives are more likely to gripe about the financial and other obligations and costs incurred by the new immigrants (especially the illegal ones. Interestingly, in doing so, they are implicitly assuming the ongoing existence of a safety net that makes papal grumbling about laissez faire economics even more puzzling if it is being directed at the US).

     

    So even though the 1% element of the right is still in favor of cheap and compliant nannies and gardeners, and also cheap engineers and other H-1B visa holders to keep their costs down, the rest (I’m ignoring egghead libertarians) worry more about what is going to happen to the under- and middle-class job holders who will actually have to make way for the new job seekers. Of course, both sides of the issue were always present in any immigration debate, but even though the economics of the issue have not changed, the “should” and the moral imperative meta-discussion has.

     

    Given all that, I think both Jim and Nate are right, but they are talking about different aspects of the issue. It’s a problem inherent in economics, in that without the “should” arguments, the discipline is nakedly irrelevant. Pure mathematicians do not care if anyone will find a use for their research — for them, the beauty is quite enough. Economists seem to understand that their discipline is far too lacking in beauty to warrant such devotion.

  • I recall an editorial I read (and transcribed) in France

    For generations we were disciplined, pacified and made into subjects, productive by nature and content to consume. And suddenly everything that we were compelled to forget is revealed: that “the economy is political.” And that this politics is, today, a politics of discrimination within a humanity that has, as a whole, become superfluous [une politique de sélection au sein d’une humanité devenue, dans sa masse, super-flue]. From Colbert to de Gaulle, by way of Napoleon III, the state has always treated the economic as political, as have the bourgeoisie (who profit from it) and the proletariat (who confront it). All that is left is this strange, middling part of the population, the curious and powerless aggregate of those who take no sides: the petty bourgeoisie. They have always pretended to believe that the economy is a reality-because their neutrality is safe there. Small business owners, small bosses, minor bureaucrats, managers, professors, journalists, middlemen of every sort make up this non-class in France, this social gelatine composed of the mass of all those who just want to live their little private lives at a distance from history and its tumults. This swamp is predisposed to be the champion of false consciousness, half-asleep and always ready to close its eyes on the war that rages all around it.”

  • Well! For me that opens another way of looking at it Michel P-S! Lots of food for thought there

  • Or perhaps this petty bourgeouise normally has the common sense to eschew the endless grand political solutions offered for the endless grievences that have been contrived as a path to power for the contrivers, but instead they just want to exercise their brains and brawn to raise their children with food and shelter as they ignore the “brights” whose idea of productivity is to divide people into classes they can represent in a phony ideological war. Perhaps they see the economy as real and the ideologies as phony.

  • Mike Petrik
    But that is the paradox. On the one hand, the middle class is against politicization – they just want to sustain their way of life, to be left to work and lead their life in peace (which is why they tend to support authoritarian coups which promise to put an end to the crazy political mobilisation of the masses, so that everybody can get on with their proper work). On the other hand, they – in the guise of the threatened, patriotic hard-working, moral majority – are the main instigators of grass-root mass mobilization (in the guise of the Rightist populism) In Europe, they are the backbone of the neo-fascist, anti-immigrant parties that form the only serious opposition to the post-political EU consensus.
    As a class, they are being eliminated by down-sizing, out-sourcing and globalisation.

  • Michael PS – oh yes, why very good points my chap .. why in fact, they seem to be summed up, if you will, on this very clip …. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVQrpok9KPA (pfff)

  • Fair point, Michael. In other words, don’t underestimate the ability of any person or group to be convinced that it too has a grievance and has been terribly wronged by some other person or group. The instigators of these contrived class wars are usually not even really evil, just afflicted with an unwholesome admixture of pride, naivity and the need to *feel* good about themselves.

  • Although the discussion reminds me a bit of the tale of four or five blind men assaying an elephant, the difference would be that the elephant is a creation of God (came into being without the help of humans) whereas the economy is constructed by mankind…with sometimes clarity of vision and more often clouded, sometimes by large
    groups of people banded together in ethos or ideology, sometimes just lemmings

    I am not saying the participants here are blind men! Just saying the economy is a mystery and none of our best opinions are adequate.
    Moral theology does apply to our personal and collective economic behavior, and personal choices are ultimately key
    Subsidiarity

  • So where are we in this matter? No one can or should go to the Church for economic answers, economics is not the Church’s expertise or mission. However, ‘the humanum’, what it means to be human is, because it is only in Christ that the fullest revelation of what it means to be ‘man’ is revealed. Only in Christ are the deepest questions of ‘man’ answered. Only in Christ can we discover ‘man’s true dignity. Only in Christ that the deepest meaning of human life discovered in the “Law of the Gift”

    I am left with three questions from this discussion:

    1. Is not economics a human science, that precisely because it is human, is not only open to, but needs the moral/ethical dimension for it to “.prosper”?

    2) If so, how can we work to make sure ” mammon” is not a “golden calf” but instead serves and does not rule?

    3)With this in mind how best can we work together within a democratic capitalist system (vs any state hegemony or socialist utopian. Nightmare) to decrease to the point of disappearing an economy of exclusion which denigrates and even denies the dignity of each person from the moment of conception to natural death?

  • lol I left out a phrase in my post: The humanum is the expertise and mission of the Church. Sorry lo

  • Botolph, a fine summation. And for these reasons we can appreciate that the needed improvement in the moral fabric and behavior of our society is achieved, not in or through economic circles, but in our Lord and savior. The change of heart brings about a change in behavior – whether from a mother, father, senator, congressman, clerk, lawyer, doctor, manager or business owner. Grass roots, slowly and at times painfully planted and watered. To this end our mission to go forth is all that more important …. and the actions, words and faith that each of us bring, matters. The primary goals being more and better Christians, preferably catholic — not necessarily a mission to bring about more capitalists or socialist.

  • Two quips — from two very wise men — pretty well exhaust what I might have to add as to ‘where we’re at’ in this conversation (both this particular conversation, and of this general conversation of which our exchange here is an instance).

    The Canadian Jesuit, Bernard Lonergan, best known as philosopher and theologian, devoted a great deal of his life to thinking about economics. Asked once if economics is a science, he responded, ‘if it is, it’s at a stage of development roughly comparable to that of chemistry in the thirteenth century.’

    And Daniel Patrick Moynihan — himself no slouch as a social scientist — insisted that social scientists (and he definitely included economists here) have virtually no expertise whatsoever when it comes to recommending public policy. In fact, he insisted that they have virtually no credible skills in predicting the consequences of particular policies. What they are able to do — even occasionally do well — is evaluate the consequences of policy choices that have been enacted.

    In a word, modesty.

    Re-reading this entire conversation leads me to think that at least my part in it got off track by engaging in the hard/soft dichotomy as to the sciences. My whole point in joining the conversation was to respond to the original author’s assertion that he wouldn’t look to the Church for economic guidance any more than for astronomical guidance. I suggested a category mistake had been made in associating these two sciences. But ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ don’t get to the point. The distinction I was positing was between the ‘natural’ sciences and the ‘human’ sciences. Yes, all the sciences are human on the side of the subject, involving the human operations of the human minds of human scientists. But the objects of study of some sciences also involve the operations of human minds and wills and hearts and vices and virtues, while others do not.

    The fact that many economists do not recognize/acknowledge the significance of that distinction for scientific methodology has much to do with why Fr. Lonergan located economics as he did.

    And, yes, insisting that economics is a ‘human’ science means that the Church may have something to offer here. But I would share hesitancy about any direct, all too easy contribution. I’m not arguing for a ‘moral’ dimension to economics. I’m simply suggesting that economists will never attain to significant intellectual understanding of reality without grasping that the realities they are attempting to understand are intrinsically dependent on the operations of human beings, and accordingly that their operative assumptions as to what a human being is will lead to both insights and oversights. Today’s economic science seems to me riddled with oversights precisely because of highly inadequate notions of what it is to be a human being.

    But I’m not sure there really is any more ‘moral’ component to economics than there is to astronomy. The moral urgency comes with what we do with the findings of either science. And how much authority we give to those sciences. And how much modesty we demand of them.

    A final train of thought. A whole bunch of economics graduate students were dispatched as missionaries from the University of Chicago to Pinochet’s Chile. ‘Missionaries’ because they were filled with ‘oughts.’ Lots of good ideas, no doubt. But so little awareness (so similar to their descendants in the economics wing of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad a few decades later) that thinking of markets-as-such is an abstraction. In reality markets only exist and function in contexts, which have histories and cultures and developed traditions of virtue and vice. And imposition of radical change on the basis of well-intentioned theory (whether theories of Marx or markets) tends to be bloody, whether in Havana or Santiago.

    And the Church has something to say about blood. First and foremost, pay attention to those who are bleeding. Nate grabbed stock images from standard economics textbooks: buggy whip factories and eating seed corn. But we aren’t talking about either of those things here.

    We aren’t talking about a farmer eating his seed corn, because we’re talking about whole societies of farmers who don’t have land anymore. It’s now owned by anonymous and distant corporations (‘subsidiarity’ anyone?) growing coffee. And even if there are a few farmers still left with land, their corn doesn’t provide seed anymore; it needs to be purchased anew each growing season from the seed company. Which may be a good thing or bad; but outdated examples reveal outdated thinking.

    All of which is just to say: attend to the concrete. This entire conversation has been ‘Northern’ in tone and substance. It couldn’t be otherwise, all of us, it seems, being Yanquis. But two-thirds of our Church are Southerners (and I don’t mean Dixie). To be sure, they aren’t of one mind and don’t speak with one voice. But Jorge Bergoglio’s is a significant voice, and speaks for many. We should listen.

  • Jim,

    I believe we are in agreement about most points. The one exception [and I might be misreading what you said] is “I’m not sure there is really is any more ‘moral component’ to economics than there is to astronomy”. If I am reading you correctly we greatly differ here. Astronomy has next to zero moral component unless NASA spies a very large meteor streaking toward earth and the question is whether or not to attempt to intercept it [I know enough astronomy that how and to what degree etc are important as well]. However, the moons of Jupiter and how they interact around their home planet not only do so with extremely little impact on ‘man’ but do so according to gravity etc. Since there is no choice in their operations,then there is no morality.

    However, there is choice, freedom, in economic activity. True, 2+2=4; can’t argue that. However, if one of those two is yours, the other two is mine, neither of us has the right to ‘take’, ‘steal’, manipulate the market so that one of those two’s becomes the others. Make sense? While of course economics has become very complicated, its constant moral component, present from the time of the first human couple, has been ratified and guaranteed by Sinai: Thou Shalt not steal.

    Once we agree on that, then the other two questions can be, should be and need to be tackled.

  • I guess this all becomes part of the issue. Stealing is wrong. 2+2=4. But as noted, economics, being a social science, is very imprecise. So we know that stealing is wrong but we really can’t be completely sure that some economic activities constitute stealing. One can have a valid opinion that we are dealing with 2+2. Another may argue that it is 2+3. So a (legitimate) divergence of opinion given the state of an imprecise science. Thus one can conclude given the premises in the first that one activigty is licit and with the latter set of premises that it is stealing.

    The Pope talks about “unfettered capitalism.” But really, does such exist? If not, is his point merely theory and has no practical implication. Is he talking 2+3 when the problem is really one of 2+2?

    The problem then becomes when the Church enters such a fray and takes a side in what is a licit divergence of opinion – something that is properly the task of the laity when it involves ordering the activities of the world. This is where I think those in the Church hierarchy error.

  • Philip,

    You raise a great point and one I have been pondering for a bit since the publication of Evangelii Gaudium. There have been questions of translation, however, for a moment, let’s put those aside and take this at face value. The Pope mentions “unfettered capitalism” and you rightly ask, “But really, does such exist?” I can’t speak for every nation or economy, but it certainly does not exist in America. However, I have begun to realize that that is exactly what the Pope is getting at. Let’s just say for the sake of argument, that there are no countries in which an ‘unfettered capitalism’ exists. A economic system in which money rules and does not serve, excludes without impunity [see I am beginning to see that this is what Pope Francis is going after: “unbridled capitalism”. But why should he bother doing this, if it does not really exist. Because in the increasing globalization of economy, with transnational corporations above the rules and regulations of any country [and these companies do exist] the DESIRE to remake the economic world into a world of ‘unbridled capitalism’ does exist-and thus the prophetic challenge.

    A lot of my reflection on this has come while reading the discussion going on in this series of posts. I myself got bogged down in some of the more immediate stuff, but sitting back and relfecting on what was said by Pope Francis and the economic world, I recognized that, just as in the 80’s-90’s we entered into a vast new cyberworld, so now we are entering into a vast new global economic world.

    For example, I saw an article that stated a young man (married?) got into a fight with his wife or girlfriend in China [Peoples’ Republic] at a mall that was at least seven levels high. They were fighting because they had been CHRISTMAS shopping for five hours, had bags and bags of bought items and she wanted to go to another store for shoes. He argued she had plenty of shoes, they needed to go home etc. She called him a cheapskate, and was spoiling the CHRISTMAS SPIRIT. At which point he threw down all the bags he was carrying and jumped over the seventh level banister plunging to his death-taking out some CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS on the way down. Philip, I read this in shock-at a couple of levels. However, note that it took place in so called Communist China, that he jumped from the seventh level (place must have been huge), that this couple were CHRISTMAS SHOPPING in a marxist country of which most of the population, even if religious are not Christian. Yet it was, like here, time for Christmas shopping. I bet there were many American stores in that mall as well.

    I am more convinced now than before that Pope Francis’ remarks (and that basically is what they are-not full formal teachings as in an encyclical) are prophetically addressing not what is, but what ‘powers that be’ want to exist: an unfettered capitalism. The pope already knows the problem of socialism etc. He was one of the leaders against ‘liberation theology’ in Latin America-so he is no ‘lover’ of marxism or its softer cousin socialism. He is going after capitalism that desires to be unfettered by morality. And I say “Amen”

  • “Because in the increasing globalization of economy, with transnational corporations above the rules and regulations of any country [and these companies do exist] the DESIRE to remake the economic world into a world of ‘unbridled capitalism’ does exist-and thus the prophetic challenge.”

    I will leave to others whether such companies exist. It seems that most companies labor under an unbundance of multinational regulations.

  • That should read “abundance.”

    Again I appreciate your posts. But I think such is subject to debate. Your discussion of what happened in China appears to be more about materialism and consumerism then Capitalism. And thus we’re back to whose premises are correct.

  • Philip,

    Thanks for your response. Let me say this, I am not so sure I can separate “materialism and consumerism from capitalism” I don’t think that all who believe in a free market are materialists or consumerists, however, are materialism and consumerism not a fruit of a ‘capitalism’ in which mammon rules and not serves? See the issue is whether money rules or serves. There is, can be and should be a ‘free market’ in which money serves the common good. However, it is all too easy, and all too common to devolve into a situation and even a system in which money is the bottom line and not people.

  • “…however, are materialism and consumerism not a fruit of a ‘capitalism’ in which mammon rules and not serves?”

    I would say accidents of rather than essential to.

  • Botolph,
    Given the general worldwide rise of highly regulated social welfare states, the risk of unfettered capitalism seems pretty remote. Nor is there much of a risk of a world that accepts a capitalism that is unfettered by morality. The real risk is that which is presented by a “first world’ that no longer accepts morality as properly understood by the Church, and is exporting this lack of acceptance to the rest of the world. The enemy is not capitalism; the enemy is growing lack of faith and the abandonment of Christendom and cultures grounded in faith in exchange for an emergence of a secular world. Capitalism is basically a red herring. Those of us who advocate for free markets generally recognize that free markets, even assuming perfect information and perfect rational behavior, do not always yield outcomes that are socially optimal. After all, people make bad decisions and have bad luck. We must look out for each other accordingly. While certainly government can be an agent for such efforts, it is difficult to untether such government efforts from the notion of “entitlement,” and the evidence strongly suggests that entitlement programs are dehumanizing and eventually counterproductive.
    The bottom line is that the Holy Father’s statements are either unhelpful and obvious truisms or naive and mischievous miscalculations.

  • Philip,

    In you repeating back my quote, I realized I was vague in what I meant. Here is what I actually meant: Are not materialism and consumerism the fruit of a form of capitalism in which mammon rules and does not serve. In other words, I readily affirm not all forms of capitalism are like this.

  • Mike Petrik,

    I agree with all your comments in your last post, except the last paragraph concerning the pope’s remarks. We of course can agree to disagree. However I wonder if ‘we’ could flesh the issue out a bit more.

  • Botolph, I suppose it is true that men can view capitalism as a way of life rather than an economic system, but aside from a handful of Randian Objectivists, no one really sees it that way. Instead, men simply fall short in their treatment of their fellow man as they do in all circumstances. Consumerism is simply a variant of materialism, and materialism is a normal human temptation in any system.

  • “In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and I the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”

    The key is the word “greater.” If he had instead stated “perfect,” his statement would be harder to quarrel with. Free markets have done more to lift people out of poverty that the Church has ever done, and that is not a criticism of the Church. I suspect that the Holy Father does not really understand the markets built in limitations on economic power. I also suspect that he is mistakenly assigning the injustices he has witnessed in South America to markets instead of corrupt legal and political systems.

    That said, it is true that markets can behave ruthlessly even as the press living standards ever higher. Some people do lose, and such losses are real and important. But it ultimately makes no sense to stop the rise of the auto industry in order to protect blacksmiths from the very real pain of unemployment and loss of station.

  • Mike Petrik,

    Your second to last post (doubting many see capitalism as a way of life) has given me pause and will reflect upon it. I sense that what you are saying is true-and perhaps i have never thought of it in quite the way you have put it. Thank you for that.

    In your last post, I sense we are in agreement, Your ‘correction’ of Pope Francis’ wording from ‘greater’ to ‘perfect’ makes a great deal of sense. BTW His statements on economic matters while significant etc, are not an exercise of papal magisterium, wit infallibility etc. I know that while ‘defending’ him from those thinking he is marxist etc[no one in here by the way] I have also been able to take time to really listen to people who, like yourself obviously know economics far more than any knowledge I have. I myself question the Pope’s use of the phrase ‘trickle-down economics’ (assuming it is not a translation issue), just on the grounds that it is a term that does not belong in an apostolic exhortation [no matter what the economic veracity is involved] The term is almost universally used perjoratively and I think we can and or should expect more from a papal document.

  • “Sursum corda”
    Thanks Botolph for your story about the supposedly communist Chinese couple struggling through (the Miasma*) trying to be true somehow to a Christmas spirit that none of us really really understand… and on “the seventh level” (what a great ancient biblical implication is there for us to see or not see) of the shopping tower.

    *I’m using that term just now as a reference according to the Greek understanding of an unfettered and contagious power as I am thinking a bit darkly about the way so many seem to think of the economy as Having A Life Of Its Own, having outstripped its human constructors.

    That the unfortunate Chinese couple was endeavoring to live out some kind of spiritual ideal, reaching for the “Christmas spirit” even though the government controllers of the economy have tried to dissuade generations of their family from Christmas and from Christ is a remarkable sign of .. the unseen hand… of God. People will lift up their hearts. They will! Even in the worst economic circumstances, in the abject powerlessness over their physical lives, people will lift up their hearts.
    One of my favorite”s parts of the Mass . “Sursum corda”

  • I’m watchful of some who gravitate toward treating “isms” and “markets” as having intelligence and decision making all by themselves. It’s the people behind them, at the individual level, who engage in the markets. The market is agnostic. We hope the people are centered with a moral foundation along with a rational conscious, which did not seem to be the case with the quotes Chinese. Greed exists at a personal level … not through an “ism”.

  • “Greed exists at a personal level … not through an “ism”

    Great point. Those not greedy need not feel insulted. Capitalism doesn’t make a sharing person greedy. socialism won’t make a greedy person generous.
    But we are not to cool to accept the fact that we too can be warned -by the Vicar of Christ- against the lure or traps that we could be tempted to.

  • The bottom line is that the Holy Father’s statements are either unhelpful and obvious truisms or naive and mischievous miscalculations.

     

    The same might be said of economics in general. Consider Sanislaw Ulam’s challenge to Paul Samuelson to name something non-trivial that economics has given us, and the brevity of Samuelson’s reply.

  • HA,
    Sure, the same might be said of anything. People, including Ulam, say all kinds of dumb stuff. In any case, whether Ulam’s challenge, or your assertion, has any merit is not relevant to the Holy Father’s statements. And brevity is not a vice.

  • Sure, the same might be said of anything. People, including Ulam, say all kinds of dumb stuff.

    Really? If anyone were to claim that the advances made in physics, chemistry and other hard sciences, not to mention math, were trivial or obvious truisms, now that would be saying some dumb stuff indeed.

     

    As it is, the fact that a Nobel-prize winning author of the standard bible of economics (as far as a significant percentage of economics undergrads are concerned) offered up one centuries-old result in reply to Ulam’s question is highly significant. You’re right that brevity is not a vice — in that particular instance, it speaks volumes. Not that I could have done any better than Samuelson, were anyone to ask the same question of me. The only additions I might make to the list would be with results that influence economics, but were not derived there. For example, the neurophysiology of risk/reward (and how the areas of the brain that are pleasured by a winning bet are different from those that experience pain when a bet fails, which lends some insight into how trading and gambling works), and the efficacy of the tit-for-tat strategy that game theorists have studied, but again, neither of those are the province of economics. Maybe Nash equilibrium would also be suitable, but that is still a strikingly small list, and besides, I am not sure what the Nash equilibrium has done for me lately (in comparison, with say, lasers or the Haber process).

     

    When I hear the Pope pronounce upon economics, I am struck by what he might have had to offer on the subject of lobotomies 50 years ago, or leeches a few centuries ago. The Pope might well have argued that it would be wrong to deprive the poor of lobotomies if the rich are able to “benefit” from such a therapy, and he might encourage richer nations to train the doctors of poorer nations so as to make any such therapies widely available, and that would all be laudable in its own way, yet it would also be tragically lacking. And that is what I think of when I see the Pope (or his translators) harp on straw-man versions of capitalism while saying precious little on the dangers of leftist approaches to poverty and injustice.

  • I’m sure the Pope’s view has its flaws, however, not to be U.S.-centric about it but at a time when the only Republican economic talking point is “cut spending” (not necessarily bad mind, just that it’s not an overall economic plan/societal vision) and previous ’12 stuff about makers/takers from certain quarters I think it’s healthy to have discussions about what a conservative economic vision should look like, and acknowledging certain flaws with how things’re going, whether they naturally arise out of capitalism or not.

  • Mike Petrik wrote, “Free markets have done more to lift people out of poverty that the Church has ever done.”

    But does this lead to grater “justice and inclusion”? Commerce has been the great solvent of social relations, the framework on which justice and inclusion depend.

    Dr Johnson gave an early example of this, in the West of Scotland, “In the Islands, as in most other places, the inhabitants are of different rank, and one does not encroach here upon another. Where there is no commerce nor manufacture, he that is born poor can scarcely become rich; and if none are able to buy estates, he that is born to land cannot annihilate his family by selling it. This was once the state of these countries. Perhaps there is no example, till within a century and half, of any family whose estate was alienated otherwise than by violence or forfeiture. Since money has been brought amongst them, they have found, like others, the art of spending more than they receive; and I saw with grief the chief of a very ancient clan, whose Island was condemned by law to be sold for the satisfaction of his creditors.”

    He adds, “The Laird is the original owner of the land, whose natural power must be very great, where no man lives but by agriculture; and where the produce of the land is not conveyed through the labyrinths of traffick [sic], but passes directly from the hand that gathers it to the mouth that eats it. The Laird has all those in his power that live upon his farms. Kings can, for the most part, only exalt or degrade. The Laird at pleasure can feed or starve, can give bread, or withhold [sic] it. This inherent power was yet strengthened by the kindness of consanguinity, and the reverence of patriarchal authority. The Laird was the father of the Clan, and his tenants commonly bore his name. And to these principles of original command was added, for many ages, an exclusive right of legal jurisdiction.”

    Capitalism, in the form of commerce, destroyed that form of organic community.

  • Yes, commerce adds stress to the human condition by adding freedom. Life would probably be less stressful if we lived lives unfettered by economic change and the stresses it so induced, knowing our stations, poor or rich, were secure. I don’t see how such reduction in liberty adds to justice, however.

  • And I would add that feudalism is only organic insofar as might makes right is organic.

  • Old does not necessarily mean organic. With any economic change there are always winners and losers and early in the change the losers tend to heavily outnumber the winners. Nostalgia then tends to color the past in rose colored hues. Sir Walter Scott during the early stages of the Industrial Revolution gave a great impetus to the process with his colorful tales of medieval life such as Ivanhoe. Scott was a great Romanticist but a poor historian, as historians of his day were quick to point out.

  • Donald R. McClarey

    Probably no people in Europe enjoyed greater political freedom than the Highland clans and septs before the 1745 Rebellion. North of Stirling, the power of government was negligible, except where the Crown could exploit their mutual hostility and the clans were, for practical purposes, self-governing. The same is true of the Border families. In fact, the domestic authority of the heads of houses rendered government largely superfluous.

    Michael Petrik

    Fudalism was the very reverse of “might makes right.” The superior was one man; his vassals were numerous, well-armed and skilled in their use, through feud and raid. His whole power lay in their loyalty. The attachment of his followers to their chief cannot be over-stated and their readiness to avenge any real or imagined affront often led to “tulzies,” or scuffles.

    Thus, Edinburgh witnessed the famous street skirmish in 1520 between the Hamiltons and the Douglases, known as “Cleanse the Causeway,” when the latter, as Pitscottie records, ” keiped both the gaitt and their honouris”; and that in 1551 between the Kerrs and the Scotts, two Border families,

    “When the streets of High Dunedin
    Saw lances gleam and falchions redden,
    And heard the slogan’s deadly yell
    Then the Chief of Branxholm fell.”

    Sixteen years later, Robert Birrel notes in his diary, “”The 24 of November [1567], at 2 afternoon, ye laird of Airthe and ye laird of Weeims mett upone ye heigh gait of Edinburghe ; and they and ther followers faught a verey bloudey skirmish, quher ther wes maney hurte one both sydes vith shote of pistol.”

    Cassell’s indispensable Old & New Edinburgh records scores of such incidents.

  • Botolph: You caught my quandary as to morals/economics. I was thinking on the fly, and perhaps expressed what I was thinking less than clearly. Not in any way questioning the moral dimension of economic living, acting; in fact, trying to insist on it. Just wondering whether it might be possible, perhaps even advisable, to think of economics-as-a-science as a more circumscribed endeavor. It’s fairly evident just in this very conversation, how little consensus there is as to explanation even of economic matters of fact — and this conversation, given where it is occurring, involves a very narrow range of opinion, given the likelihood of who would be drawn here.

    If the science of economics has developed no governing consensus as to method for explaining facts, perhaps seeking meaningful moral insight from that science is asking a bit much. But this would mean that the societal role of scientific economics would constrict considerably. My sense is that there are more than a few economists who want to insist that their science is not a moral one, but who still want to be able to speak/write ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ galore. So, perhaps positing a moral dimension to the science is, on the one hand, asking too much of economists, and, on the other, ceding too much ground to them.

    HA: As to lobotomies and leeches, your remark may be on target in describing some people with a singular focus on distribution of goods. The focus of Pope Francis, I think, is not so singular. It seems substantially broader. It’s a bit much to imagine him — even granting the inevitability of blind spots in anyone’s thinking at particular times — as a lobotomy enthusiast. There seems to be a fairly strong keep-your-junk-to-yourselves dimension of his thinking, as well as a share-the-wealth dimension. Not that he has expressed himself at sufficient length and depth that certain judgment is possible here. But he seems possessed of an abiding concern for the integrity of local cultures that are being disrupted by the rapid advance of globalized commerce. I’m pretty sure this would have protected him from any temptation to advocate poking holes in people’s brains, just because the norteamericanos were doing so. As for leeches, I suspect they had plenty of their own. Both images seem inapt.

    Donald R. McClarey: Romanticism, to be sure, is a danger. So, too, is rationalism. The former yields too much sway to moral sentiments, the latter too little. Too-easy talk of the inevitability of “winners and losers” in the economic game is a case in point. Yes, avoid judgments that are simply emotive. But, also, yes, stand squarely in the midst of those who are experiencing the most catastrophic consequence of emerging economic patterns, see/hear/smell/taste/touch life as they do, and allow that experience a significant place in the emergence of our economic imaginations, inquiries, insights, reflections, judgments, deliberations, and actions. Romantics wreak great suffering; so do rationalists.

  • “Too-easy talk of the inevitability of “winners and losers” in the economic game is a case in point.”

    It isn’t too easy talk Jim, it is a simple statement of fact, just as the creation of huge welfare states, that are now manifestly in their death throes, created winners and losers. Good intentions do not excuse us from the consequences of actions that are simply congealed folly, and a refusal to acknowledge the most basic of economic laws is a fine example of congealed folly.