7 Responses to Libertarianism & CST: The Debate Continues

  • My response:
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    Sanchez says I’ve done nothing to alter his original opinion of my views:
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    “everything that coheres with the libertarian worldview is in; everything which opposes it is out.”
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    Let me explain why it looks that way. As I have already mentioned, and as has been mentioned by other Catholic libertarians and even pro-market conservatives, there are two kinds of statements about economics; “normative” or moral statements, and descriptive or technical statements. In my reading of the Papal encyclicals, there is very little, if anything at all, in the way of normative or moral statements that I would toss out. This is because the vast majority of such statements are clearly oriented towards the ultimate ends of economic activity, which is the common good. No disagreement from me on that!
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    What I consider “out” are statements of a descriptive or predictive or theoretical nature that are either dubious or simply false. And there are plenty of those.
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    Next:
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    “As a matter of interpretive principles, I reject Hargrave’s narrow textualist approach which would create a tensions in the encyclical’s text and also put Leo XIII’s instruction out of continuity with post-Leonine developments of Catholic social teaching (CST). Hargrave, oddly, seems to forget that Rerum Novarum launched, not capped, the Church’s modern social magisterium.”
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    I don’t believe my reading of RN creates tensions in the text itself. Here Sanchez and I have what I consider to be mostly a semantic dispute that I’m not even going to address in detail here. But I do believe there are tensions between RN and later developments in CST. So what?
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    The whole reason we have these debates is to overcome the incessant moralism and dogmatism that the self-appointed defenders of CST often engage in. I am not arguing that all Catholics must be libertarians, but I am arguing that the goals of justice and general prosperity are best served by a market economy. In the minds of more than a few Catholics, this argument itself is heretical. In Leo XIII we have a pope who articulated and defended the first and most basic pillar of a free market economy – the individual, natural and inviolable right to the fruits of one’s labor as their property. In further discussing the relation between the individual man and the state, Leo XIII defends the idea that it is man who precedes the state (a reversal of the old Aristotelian idea), that his rights exist before the state exists, and it is the state that exists to serve man and protect his rights. He rejects the notion that the state has a duty to confiscate the surplus wealth of individuals and redistribute it to the poor (except in cases of extreme need). If all of this causes “tension”, well, one can read it all out of the encyclical, deny that it is there, magically “contextualize” it out of existence – or one can accept that there are tensions, and that this is ok. Who said there had to be 100% consistency on these points? We’re not talking about the Immaculate Conception here.
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    I could also go off on a long tangent about a whole host of other “tensions” in the pre and post Vatican II Magisteriums that are a heck of a lot more disturbing than this one, but Sanchez is quite familiar with those already.

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    Next:
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    Sanchez says I and others blatantly mischaracterize his views about what CST calls for. Well, I never intended to mischaracterize. His views weren’t exactly clear to me, and in some cases I was simply speaking in general terms about what people on his side of the spectrum tend to believe. I have a feeling that if we got down to details, we would probably end up agreeing on a number of issues. If he rejects mass egalitarian projects like Obamacare, onerous taxes on the wealthy, a Leviathan administrative state, etc. then I don’t see that we have many practical disagreements. The key issue for the libertarian is the use of force. As a minarchist I’m not a “pure” libertarian anarchist, but I do reject confiscatory taxation as a violation of the right to private property. I reject the idea that an entity with an absolute monopoly of violence is required to “intervene” in the economy – let alone to ensure that “labor” is somehow exalted over “capital.” Of course I am interested to see how that might be done without “heavy handed, often costly regulatory measures.” Impress me!
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    Next:
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    “I would ask Hargrave, in charity as a fellow Catholic, to drop libertarianism’s Manichaean outlook which would have all the world divided into “freedom lovers” and “statists.””
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    I haven’t called anyone a statist, not here, in my previous reply, or in my Crisis piece. If I did in a comment box somewhere, I apologize.

  • That picture of Leo XIII is vaguely campy. Why are you using it?

  • There are many reasons why the state may interfere with free markets, other than redistribution of wealth.

    Protectionism, whether in the form of tariffs or subsidies is often proposed on strategic grounds, to ensure security of supply in the event of conflict. For more than a century, French governments protected their iron and steel industries, subsidized agriculture for this reason. They built a vast rail network, 30,000 km of it, with branch lines serving every hamlet. Most of these could never operate at a profit; they were intended for the rapid mobilisation of reserves and it was as much part of the national defences as the frontier fortresses.

    It was Liberals and Radical Republicans, one recalls, who treated universal suffrage and universal conscription as two sides of the same coin and saw in the levée en masse the supreme expression of the republic, one and indivisible

    Adam Smith, one recalls, defended the Navigation Acts, requiring British goods to be exported in British ships on precisely these grounds: they created, in effect, a naval reserve and a ready supply of fleet auxiliaries.

    An Arch-Conservative like Bismark, ran Prussia like an armed camp; every male citizen was a soldier, actual or potential, industry was increasingly integrated into the system of national defence and the distinction between the armed forces and the “Home Front” was blurred.

    One recalls Rousseau, “Each man alienates, I admit, by the social compact, only such part of his powers, goods and liberty as it is important for the community to control; but it must also be granted that the Sovereign [the People] is sole judge of what is important.”

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  • So far all wealth transfer has done is export abortion, contraception and sterilization to men and women around the world, particularly in developing countries that don’t want it. In fact, the recipients of charity must agree to sterilize, Norplant or vasectomies in order to receive food, medicine, water and mosquito nets. It disgusts me. I refuse to support government mandated wealth redistribution until the evils of abortion and contraception are abolished. Let the poor receive hard goods (such as bags of rice) through reputable suppliers only, and not the U.N. and its population councils as it is presently done. I demand that Pope Francis account for where charitable donations go, and give us a sound reason why Catholics should support wealth redistribution in the face of this great evil.

  • This is most certainly an oversimplified assertion, but libertarianism, as it is generally espoused today, is compatible neither with Catholicism nor, for that matter, with the American ethos. Liberty and order, which may superficially appear to be incompatible, must be pursued simultaneously, as neither has unqualified primacy of place in the creation and maintenance of the good society.

    Catholicism and the American ethos define order in a quite different manner, but both acknowledge that order, pursued in a predetermined, consistent and principled manner, is necessary to true liberty and the pursuit of happiness. One of the primary challenges for American Catholics is to resolve the tension between the Catholic view of order and the American view of order.

  • ” . . . but libertarianism, as it is generally espoused today, is compatible neither with Catholicism nor for that matter, with the American ethos.”
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    Correct. Libertarianism, as it is generally espoused today, is a corruption fomented by major party hacks and other fascists of varying hue. Libertarianism, as I knew it 30 years ago before it became a threat to the Standing Order, was so compatible with the American ethos that we had trouble even finding contrast to give it substance and definition. It was compatible with Catholicism like nitrogen is compatible with breathing. As it is generally espoused today it is not Libertarianism. To believe that it is, is to swallow the Kool-Aid and join the lockstep ranks of statist lemmings.
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    The corruption that Libertarianism has suffered is the same corruption that has pervaded all of American society. All of society and everything relevant to it – in short, pretty much everything – is now seen through the lens of collective politics and government. In this way, the Progressive Fascists have already won the day. This warped, Godless perspective cannot but paint its diametric opposite in anything but the ugliest of shades. The better part, then, it to shatter the lens of corruption and look straight on.
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    Once the corrupting interference is excised, Libertarianism is viewed from a human perspective which is the only accurate view: Morals and ethics ought to be taught by parents to their children, informed and reinforced by their chosen houses of worship without question of correctness, even in dissimilarity, among the citizens. Responsibilities ought to be solely the realm of the individual, forged by the necessity of either working in profitable mutual effort or failing. Rights ought to be propagated primarily through their mutual defense even (or especially) in disagreement in order to preserve the integrity of community and nation (“I may disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Try that on ANY campus of “higher learning” today.) Shortcoming in any of these three areas represents a failure, and it is incumbent upon friend and neighbor to offer fellowship, loving chastisement and opportunity for mutual benefit in its cure. These are the cornerstones of Libertarianism.
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    Government ought to be the warehouse in which violence in the name of order is bound, and loosed only in circumstances that render no other solution, and solely for the enforcement of contract or punishment of aggressive criminality. All other activity ought to be the domain of the individual citizen; a vigorous Catholic Church would be sine qua non for a prosperous, charitable and orderly community.
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    The Austrian School, and not the Keynesian, is the Libertarian economic model. How this can be called incompatible with Catholicism can only be an act of lack of information. Economics, like Salvation, is the action of individuals and cannot be successfully collectivized. The end result is multitudes in landscape, but a forest is only as healthy as its trees.
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    So, whatever is called Libertarianism today, it is not. Libertinism, perhaps, but that would die a quick and painful death in a truly Libertarian society; or Anarchy, maybe, but that’s a simple absence of something, and natural abhorrence to vacuum would rapidly address such inequity, and not for the better. Libertarianism is only as visible as it is nowadays because the epicenter of political thought has moved so far from what it used to be. Libertarians’ most object wish is to be unrecognizable from the mainstream in thought and action. The difference between us and other political stripes is that once upon a time, we were.
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    So, apologies for the rant. I’m simply tired of seeing the incorrect application of that term. Winessing the success of the Fascists in its obfuscation, to the point that good Catholic folks can’t recognize the system that would best provide for our optimal social condition, is tremendously frustrating and so I had to vent. I appreciate your kindness and time.

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.
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    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.
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    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.
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    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.
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    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.
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    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.
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    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.
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    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.

17 Responses to Prudential Judgement

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  • The realm of conscience (properly understood) is coextensive with that of prudential judgment.

    As Newman says, “conscience is not a judgment upon any speculative truth, any abstract doctrine, but bears immediately on conduct, on something to be done or not done. ‘Conscience,’ says St. Thomas, ‘is the practical judgment or dictate of reason, by which we judge what hic et nunc is to be done as being good, or to be avoided as evil.’”

    He goes on to observe that “conscience cannot come into direct collision with the Church’s or the Pope’s infallibility; which is engaged in general propositions, and in the condemnation of particular and given errors.”

    All principles are general and all action is concrete and particular; it is prudential judgment that mediates between the two.

  • Catholic Democrats use “caring for the poor” as their reason to remain Democrats even though the Democrat Party is solely responsible for the continued murder of unborn babies now at 52,000,000 dead. And to “care for the poor” they support sinning against the 10th Commandment; they support “coveting their neighbors’ goods.” And Catholic Democrat legislators like Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and DickDurbin are in the lead promoting that morally warped thinking which enables them to sin even more by “slandering their opponents” claiming they don’t care about the poor and want to “do them harm.” And that position enables the lay and clergy Catholic Democrats to commit “the sin of pride thinking they are ‘better,” i.e., morally superior, than their political opponents.

    I’m so glad the Holy Spirit led me out of that sinful party a long time ago. I have never heard anyone in the party I eventually joined ever speak and act that way towards Democrats. In fact, it is said the main difference between the two major parties is that “Democrats think Republicans are evil; Republicans just think the Democrats are wrong.”

    The Democrat Party survives on the psychological illness of “projection;” which is “the attribution of one’s own ideas, feelings, or attitudes to other people, especially the externalization of blame, guilt or responsibility as a defense against anxiety.”

  • This article helped me pinpoint something that I’ve been noodling over for awhile.

    You say that abortion is an intrinsic evil and therefore not subject to prudential judgment. I agree with the intrinsic evil part, but not necessarily the prudential judgment part. Let me explain.

    Most Catholics will agree that abortion is morally wrong because it kills a baby. However, if you were to ask those same Catholics whether abotion should be criminalized, I think a fair number of them (myself included) will balk at the idea. Why the discrepancy? If abortion is homicide (and it is: when I’m in my snarky moods I use the term feticide in its place) then the perpetrators should be penalized, should they not?

    Except… we live in a world where the popular culture and mainstream media are openly hostile to our point of view. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to anticipate that, if abortion were to be criminalized, there would be outright contempt of the law, and certain factions would be encouraging women to flaut the law in order to stick it to the man.

    So, if abortion is criminalized, we know that there will still be abortions taking place. But abortion, although much safer than it was at the turn of the last century, still has a complication rate. And, if abortion is criminalized, women who are suffering from post-abortion complications will hold off on seeking out medical attention for fear that they will be penalized. Infections will turn septic. It is hard to escape the conclusion that, if abortion is criminalized, women will needlessly die. Nobody wants to see that.

    So, is there not room in the Catholic Faith to say that how we deal with abortion is somewhat a prudential judgment?

  • Because abortion is an intrinsic evil, one cannot argue that it is good in some circumstances. So, for instance, although one might support efforts to ban abortion except in cases of rape and incest because one believed that was the best one could accomplish at the moment, one could not hold that abortion is okay in cases of rape and incest, because the principle of the dignity of human life holds regardless.

    Now, the argument I presented above was that because abortion is an intrinsic evil, one may never, though prudential judgement, come to hold as a Catholic that abortion is a “right”. From a Catholic understanding, one cannot have a right to do something which is always evil.

    One might (though I don’t) come to a conclusion that banning abortion in some particular time and place would cause more harm to the common good than not banning it. This would be analogous to Aquinas’ claim that banning prostitution (a commercial form of fornication, and thus also an intrinsic evil) caused more harm than good to society. However, I don’t tend to think that the argument that people would still get abortions and they would be less likely to seek treatment when there were complications is a good argument for not banning abortion. As the history of abortion rates in America shows us, abortion was far less common in America when abortion was illegal. The rate of women being injured in illegal abortions was also very low (contrary to exaggerated claims by abortion providing organizations such as Planned Parenthood.) I think it’s very hard to make the case that the small disincentive to seek treatment due to injuries suffered is worth failing to save the huge number of lives involved. Even by the most cautious estimates banning abortions would save hundreds of thousands of lives per year.

  • @melissa, you are right that the question of whether an intrinsically evil act should be criminalized is a matter of prudential judgment. Adultery is intrinsically evil but there are prudential reasons for not criminalizing it in today’s America. But in the case of abortion, at least two things should be considered. First, laws against abortion prior to Roe v. Wade did not criminalize mothers but abortionists. They closed down or prevented the opening of abortion mills. It would mean that Planned Parenthood would have to get licensed to and actually perform the mammograms with which the President and others erroneously credit them, instead of killing fetal babies.

    Second, current law makes it a right of mothers to have their babies ripped apart or poisoned while still in the womb, should they choose to do so. Repeal of the almost unlimited abortion license would leave it to the states to decide democratically what restrictions should be placed on such acts and what right such babies should have not to be killed. I would argue that law should recognize the same right not to be killed as it does for newborns or children or adults without discrimination. Even after repeal of Roe, I would still have to join with others to persuade fellow citizens of my state. Let the law be repealed and the debate begin!

  • I do not see how this can be said, “But abortion, although much safer than it was at the turn of the last century…”

    It is like saying, “But murder, although much safer than it was at the turn of the last century…”

    Furthermore, while a majority of women having abortions now survive the procedure while their offspring of course do not (that is the whole point), they are plagued with a variety of chronic physical and psychological problems that hardly make the procedure “safer”, the higher propensity towards breast cancer and depression being two of them.

    The wages of sin are always and everywhere death. There is no such thing as “safer” sin. The term is simply illogical.

  • Anyone who remembers France before the Veil Law of 1975 will know how criminalising abortion would work.

    Pretty well every village had its « faiseuse d’anges » or “angel maker.” Everybody knew it, nobody talked about it and the police considered it “women’s business” and ignored it. It was only when, occasionally, a woman died that the Parquet, like Captain Renault in “Casablanca,” declared themselves shocked, shocked to discover that such things went on and there was a brief flurry of prosecutions.

    Medical practitioners were never prosecuted; it was simply too easy for them to claim that they had simply performed a D & C to remove the placenta, after a spontaneous miscarriage.

    Finally, the offence was a mere « délit » tried before magistrates, as juries simply refused to convict

  • Thank God MPS that the entire world isn’t France.

  • “We shall go before a higher tribunal – a tribunal where a Judge of infinite goodness, as well as infinite justice, will preside, and where many of the judgments of this world will be reversed.” Thomas Meagher

  • Melissa raises a fair and important point. Just because something is intrinsically evil, even seriously so, does not necessarily mean that it should be criminalized. That question is generally one of prudence properly understood. Accordingly, I think that it is technically possible for a faithful Catholic to abhor abortion, concede its seriously evil nature, but nonetheless oppose its criminalization. That said, such a prudential conclusion would in my view require the prudential acceptance of certain factual assumptions that are probably pretty far-fetched.

    In addition, the prudential calculus to which Melissa refers rests with legislators informed by the will of the people, which will is in turn informed by their sense of moral gravity, life experience, practical culpabilty and appropriate punishment; not with federal courts discovering and announcing fabricated rights out of thin air.

    Finally, while Catholic teaching generally does not dictate how all governments should or must address intrinsic evils, it does emphasize that one of the first roles of any legitimate government is to protect the weak and innocent from violence and physical harm. No government can do this perfectly, no matter what laws it chooses to enact or enforce. But a pretty strong case can be made that criminalization of the intentional killing of unborn children, like born children, is not negotiable — at least as an aspirational goal.

  • The Catechism calls for the criminalization of abortion:

    “2273 The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:

    “The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.”80

    “The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights.””

  • Don,
    I do think that the Catechism leaves room for disagreement and uncertainty as to how best to bring civil law into conformity with its teachings. But without question supporting a contrived constitional right that disables legislatures from prudently pursuing that conformity is unconscienable for Catholics. This is why the professed Catholicity of Biden, Pelosi et al is a scandal.

  • Mike Petrik wrote, “In addition, the prudential calculus to which Melissa refers rests with legislators informed by the will of the people, which will is in turn informed by their sense of moral gravity, life experience, practical culpabilty and appropriate punishment; not with federal courts discovering and announcing fabricated rights out of thin air.”

    I absolutely agree. I should certainly like to see abortion criminalised, but, unless the law reflects public opinion, the best-crafted laws will remain a dead letter. Even the attempts of the Vichy government in 1943 to curb abortion by having cases tried by military tribunals and lopping off the head of Marie-Louise Giraud, a laundress who had performed 27 abortions and a typical “angel-maker,” were singularly ineffectual. The abortion rate shy-rocketed during the war years.

    Now Donald McClarey is right that the entire world isn’t France, but I fancy that the attitude to abortion that existed in France before 1975 has become much commoner throughout the West. It certainly has in my native Scotland, where, even amongst the poorest class there was an unreflective but powerful assumption that “Once you’re pregnant, that’s it – It’s your baby.”

  • Thanks, Michael. I agree that laws that do not reflect social consensus are usually problematic, though perhaps not always. Federal civil rights laws were certainly enforced on parts of America where they did not reflect majority opinion. Nonetheless, public opinion eventually followed in part because the law has some teaching effect. That said, laws that are forced onto a community that disagrees with those laws often lead to backlash or other unintended consequences. It is precisely the unpredictable nature of social response to laws that generally make them an exercise in prudence.

    I take a back seat to no one in regard to my pro-life views. Yet, I am willing to acknowledge the possiblity of faithful Catholics disagreeing with questions pertaining to how far how fast. This does not mean that I accept at face value the assertions of those Catholics who dismiss the pro-life movement as imprudent while claiming “personally pro-life.” With rare exception this is lying nonnsense. In truth these people simply don’t care much about the murder of unborn children notwithstanding their protestations to the contrary.

  • The quote from the catechism, that Don McClarey kindly pointed us to, teaches a most important principle which should, perhaps, be more clearly stated: it is deadly for the state to carve out a subset of society which is to be denied the most fundamental right to life, even if this is to avoid most serious inconvenience. That way lies gas chambers. The outcome of legalized abortion is this, that I, at 69 years of age, know how I will die. I will be murdered. There will come a time when it is seriously inconvenient for society to keep me alive. Making life a discretionary choice of another allows no defensible distinction between the fetus and the geezer. Even if a law against abortion is largely unenforceable, maintaining the principle that life is not subject to discretionary choice is the only protection that any of us have when we cause inconvenience.

  • Sirlouis

    The case of euthanasia is very instructive. In the Netherlands, the legalisation of euthanasia in 2002 was generally recognised as the legal recognition of what had been the practice of doctors and prosecutors for twenty years, going back to the Postma case in 1973. Indeed, the Postma case itself reflected what doctors had already been doing discreetly, with the support of patients’ families and of a large number of the leaders of public opinion.

    The law of 2002 was a (largely futile) attempt to regulate what was already happening on the ground.

    In other words, legislative changes tend to be symptoms not causes of changes in public attitudes.

    Michael Petrik

    The Fifteenth Amendment, which had rusted in idleness for nearly 90 years, proved a very useful weapon when public opinion in the country at large invigorated the Federal government to enforce it.

16 Responses to The Conquest of Poverty

  • The late great Henry Hazlitt. Now that’s a name that rarely is mentioned and when he is, his works never disappoint.

  • Obama, bless his heart, doesn’t foster equal opportunity, he forces equal outcomes. That has failed adding to poverty.

  • “The key idea here, though, is that charitable giving is not a duty of justice or a duty enforced by human law. The state has no obligation to confiscate and redistribute wealth in order to “help the poor” (assuming that this is what the aim really is).

    Nor do Catholics have an obligation to advocate for policies that would do as much, let alone castigate and anathematize other Catholics who object to the prudence and morality of such policies.”

    ‘Tolerance’ is a two way street and, when in balance, allows the higher virtue of charity to flourish.

    .”(13) But, when what necessity demands has been supplied, and one’s standing fairly taken thought for, it becomes a duty to give to the indigent out of what remains over. “Of that which remaineth, give alms.”(14) It is a duty, not of justice (save in extreme cases), but of Christian charity – a duty not enforced by human law. – Rerum Novarum, 22

    “This not only appears to go against what the most radical anti-Ryanites insist upon, but it really describes the way most of us already think and live anyway.”

    Charity has been a traditional function of both religious and civic groups traditionally, fostering unity and civility.

    Very few of the agitated middle-class leftists, Democrats, liberals, et. al. are living in rags because they have given the majority of their wealth to “the poor.” Something tells me that Chris Matthews, E.J. Dionne, and others on that side of the political divide are enjoying all of the perks and pleasures that an upper-middle class American lifestyle makes possible.”

    – not fostering unity and civility either.

  • You don’t conquer poverty by giving man his clothing, food, and shelter. You defeat poverty by teaching (fix failed public education) him the skills to earn them; and by removing the obstacles (class hate, demagoguery, green boondoggles, enviro-nazi hindrances to low cost energy, costly regulations, high taxes, etc.) to economic development and job growth.

    Conquer poverty
    Vote Romney/Ryan

  • Populorum Progressio is part of Catholic Social teaching, too.

    “Now if the earth truly was created to provide man with the necessities of life and the tools for his own progress, it follows that every man has the right to glean what he needs from the earth. The recent Council reiterated this truth: “God intended the earth and everything in it for the use of all human beings and peoples. Thus, under the leadership of justice and in the company of charity, created goods should flow fairly to all.” (20)

    All other rights, whatever they may be, including the rights of property and free trade, are to be subordinated to this principle. They should in no way hinder it; in fact, they should actively facilitate its implementation. Redirecting these rights back to their original purpose must be regarded as an important and urgent social duty.”

    Paul VI also cites St Ambrose “”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.”

    St Gregory, too, says, “”When we give the poor what is necessary to them, we are not so much bestowing on them what is our property as rendering to them what is their own; and it may be said to be an act of justice rather than a work of mercy.”

    On the balance between the rôle of the state and private initiative, Paul VI teaches, “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. But they must also see to it that private initiative and intermediary organizations are involved in this work.”

  • Created goods do indeed flow fairly to all when markets are free. Glad we agree on that one.

    But I really have to disagree with the good saints, whose statements are not authoritative, on the question of property ownership. Rerum Novarum, which is authoritative, establishes the natural, individual right to acquire private property through one’s labor – and makes a pretty clear distinction between what is one’s own, and what one must give to others. You can dance around it all you like, but it will still be there when you are done. Theologians and saints can craft lofty phrases, but popes are in the business of governing.

    As for the last statement, it is simply a fact that planned economies don’t work. These comments were made in the 60s, when planned economies still seemed viable, when the Soviet experiment was still in full swing and social democracy was established in Europe. Subsequent events have demonstrated that “the public authorities” are absolutely incompetent when it comes to economic planning.

    Since it cannot be the Church’s intention to harm the common good by prescribing disastrous economic policies, I think we can safely ignore this prescription.

  • Rerum Novarum does, indeed, establish the right to private property; Populorum Progressio says that “All other rights, whatever they may be, including the rights of property and free trade, are to be subordinated to this principle. ”

    There is no contradiction here, simply a development of doctrine.

  • There is a contradiction between respecting private property rights and calling for a planned economy. In an economy in which private property rights are respected, private property owners make economic decisions, not government agencies.

  • “private property owners make economic decisions, not government agencies.”

    Of course, but within the constraints established by public policy; that is why Populorum Progressio insists that public authorities see to it that “private initiative and intermediary organizations are involved in this work. In this way they will avoid total collectivization and the dangers of a planned economy which might threaten human liberty and obstruct the exercise of man’s basic human rights. ”

    Again, there is no conflict here.

  • The Popes’ assumed that man would be virtuous.

    It is not so.

    Socialists, progressives, liberals, democrats don’t care about the poor. If they did they wouldn’t have spent 80 years pushing the same old failed garbage. They care about political power.

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  • My son has autism spectrum disorder. He can speak, and he can work, but his condition requires a job coach to help him stay on task and moderate his behavior, which unaided will become self-injurious.

    Is he the “extreme need exception”? How will this be temporary? What WILL be temporary will be my life and my ability to provide for him financially and protect him from financial or personal abuse. He does not have the social capability to protect himself.

    One does not have to be a “socialist” to understand that a just society protects those that are weakest and cannot fend for themselves. I don’t expect my son’s “exception” to assume the “rule,” but it is a vast oversimplification of life that “extreme need is a temporary and relative phenomenon.

    Don’t get me wrong, America has gone too far on the path of socialism. But it is vastly unrealistic to assume that a safety net can be temporary, or that enough money can be produced by private charity or local governments, in all cases where basic human compassion (forget Christian morality, which presumably the author believes in) would require more.

  • Michael,

    I was obviously talking about the absence of a permanently impoverished caste in modern industrial societies. People with illnesses are a different story.

    I don’t think it is unrealistic at all to expect private charity, personal income, family support, and local community to help people with extreme needs. This is how the human race survived for thousands of years. The existence of the nation-state doesn’t automatically entitle you to everything that a nation-state can theoretically provide – especially when its fiscal disorders are so severe that it can barely afford to deliver what it has already promised.

  • Conquer poverty.

    Vote Romney/Ryan.

39 Responses to Assertion without Evidence

  • Wow. Well, where do I begin? How about removing the word “warpath” to describe what I’m doing? http://catholicbandita.com/romneys-ryan-pick-drives-the-wedge-between-catholics-deeper/

    Can we start there? Remove “warpath”? Thanks.

  • Ryan’s pick divided Catholics because Catholics like you choose to distort Ryan’s record and turn him into something he is not. Therefore your post is something of a tautology.

  • I don’t know what Lisa Graas said, but are there any major thinkers, pundits or experts who have expressed silly reservations like the ones you describe?

    Charlie

  • Will you not remove the word “warpath” in reference to what I am doing?

  • Well, it depends on how you define “major.” Truthfully, this is probably not a major concern outside of the Catholic blogosphere, and even then only a certain subset of it. In fact, that’s part of why I find the claim that he’s being disingenuous about his feelings with regard to Rand to be a little perplexing. Of all the things a politician is going to lie about, why this? Somehow I don’t think Paul Ryan is so concerned with how a subset of a subset of a subset of the population feels about Ayn Rand that he would feel the need to change his tune.

  • I guess you are not going to remove the word “warpath” you use to describe what I am doing so I am going to give this post the attention it deserves. None.

  • I’m sure it won’t ultimately matter, but edit made.

  • Some people like to be naysayers. There is not a single politician in the country who is as smart and as good on economic and social issues and no slouch on national security.
    I don’t know anyone who represents a cause or a base who is criticizing this pick.

    Check out this piece from Viguerie’s newsletter:

    Social Conservative Leaders Laud Paul Ryan’s Pro-Life Record
    By CHQ Staff | 8/13/12

    Paul Ryan’s 100% right-to-life voting record and his strong and principled opposition to the abortion drug and contraception mandates in President Obama’s health care law are encouraging signs for social conservatives that with Ryan on the ticket a Romney/Ryan administration will be strongly pro-life and pro-family.

    Pro-lifersMarjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, told LifeNews that, “By selecting Congressman Ryan as his vice presidential running mate, Governor Romney demonstrates his commitment to protecting American women and unborn children. A longtime pro-life advocate and a strong fiscal conservative, Congressman Ryan has insisted that there can be no ‘truce’ when it comes to advancing the rights of the unborn and achieving fiscal responsibility. He has a pristine pro-life voting record and will be an asset to Governor Romney’s campaign.”

    The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins released a statement praising Ryan saying, “As a member of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, he has been a defender of religious expression in the public square. Paul Ryan has spoken out strongly against President Obama’s abortion drug and contraception mandates as an affront to religious liberty. He has articulately described how the President’s government takeover of health care has pushed aside our First Amendment right of religious freedom.”

    Gary Bauer, chairman of Campaign for Working Families praised the choice of Ryan saying, “I congratulate Paul Ryan and look forward to the policy debates. This is a selection that sends a strong, clear, unambiguous message of a conservative vision for America, from ending the explosive growth of government, reducing the explosive growth of the debt and instead committing to the explosive growth of the American economy. This shows the kind of talented and experienced team Governor Mitt Romney will put together that will work for American exceptionalism.

    Americans United for Life Action President Charmaine Yoest called Ryan’s selection “a bold choice of an unambiguous defender of the need for a pro-life vision for America.”

    Ryan has a 100% pro-life voting record on all roll call votes scored by National Right to Life throughout his entire career in the U.S. House of Representatives. Since being sworn-in in 1999 he supported the pro-life position on the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, and most recently the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, among others.

    As a principled supporter of pro-life legislation Congressman Paul has co-sponsored numerous pro-life bills, including the D.C. Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act (CIANA), the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, and the Protect Life Act.

    Senator Rick Santorum, the strongly pro-life candidate Romney drove from the primaries, summed-up the impact of Paul Ryan’s addition to the Republican ticket saying, “In addition to Congressman Ryan’s stellar fiscal conservative positions, he is indeed a full-spectrum conservative. He is solidly pro-life, pro-family, and will be an advocate for our military and our national-security priorities.”

  • Thank you sooooo very much Dr.Charles Kenny! The choice of Paul Ryan for VP brings a much needed ray of Hope!!!! There are many people who recognize the great peril this nation is facing, and they have responded with prayer and fasting. Blog posts are all well and good, but when I read the silliness of the above, I feel fear. Now is the time for all people of good will who love this country to UNITE. Let go of the ego already…what is the objective?…four more years of Obama. Look around. Pay attention to the voices which advocate for more and more government. Who are we serving? Please read Pope Benedict XVI Encyclical “Charity in Truth,” as well as Pope John Paul’s teaching on authentic solidarity and justice.

  • Perhaps, we should recall the words of a great 20th century Thomist, “Integral political science . . . is superior in kind to philosophy; to be truly complete it must have a reference to the domain of theology, and it is precisely as a theologian that St. Thomas wrote De regimine principum . . . the knowledge of human actions and of the good conduct of the human State in particular can exist as an integral science, as a complete body of doctrine, only if related to the ultimate end of the human being. . . the rule of conduct governing individual and social life cannot therefore leave the supernatural order out of account” (The Things that are not Caesar’s, p. 128, Jacques Maritain).

    As another Catholic philosopher of the same period, Maurice Blondel, explains, “Material things become the support of economic phenomena; economic facts, even those that appear to relate to entirely physical needs, are already pregnant with moral and social relationships. One cannot legitimately and with impunity enclose oneself in any one order; there is action from the top down and from the bottom up” (Catholicisme Social et Monophorisme).

    Contrary to the prevalent economic liberalism and sociological positivism, they recognized that a self-contained socio-economic order is an abstraction that falsifies the actual supernatural destiny of the concrete person.

    It is from this perspective that Ayan Rand’s philosophy must be judged; one cannot argue that her political and economic views can, somehow, be detached from her religious and philosophical deficiencies.

  • Paul Zummo (per his article): Does it really matter if Paul Ryan doesn’t ape Catholic theology students word for word if the end product is something is properly within Church teaching on economic matters?

    I agree with Zummo that Paul Ryan need not quote Aquinas or any Catholic theologian to make a substantively or even authentically Catholic economic argument. Ryan’s economic arguments, as found both in his budget and in his personal economic philosophy, are still in development. It’s important for all voters from both sides of the aisle to realize that the Ryan the Republican veep nominee and Ryan the possible veep-elect now face (and might eventually face) different realities based on a wide variety of variables. It’s quite possible that Ryan might grow towards a less atomistic view of individual economic relationships towards a preferential option for the poor, or the opposite. Improbability still admits possibility, however remote.

    I disagree partially, however, with Zummo’s assessment of Lisa Graas’s observation on class warfare. Zummo states that “[t]his doesn’t really sound like Ryan is blaming the poor at all.” [my addition in brackets] Indeed, Graas per Zummo’s quotations does not provide direct evidence that Ryan’s deficit reduction plan causes class warfare. Still, Graas’s statement points indirectly towards an undeniable aspect of Aquinas on distributism: class distinctions do matter. Question 61, art. 2, objection 3 and its corresponding reply rely on class distinctions to fine-tune distribution versus commutation. If, as Aquinas asserts in the reply to objection 3, distribution relies on class as a description and not an individual attribute, then drastically cutting Medicaid funding is “class warfare” so far as one aggregate group (those who depend on Medicaid, often poor persons) suffer deprivation for the benefit of the “wealthy” (the “ordinary rich” as well as those whose income is mostly dividends). Per Aquinas, this is different than a “poor person” who wrongs as “wealthy person”, as in this case the circumstances of individuals and not classes influence the morality of an action.

    One difficulty in applying Aquinan social moral theology to modern day circumstance is the reality of our postindustrial society. Nevertheless, the reality that persons act as moral groups as well as moral individuals also implies that the structure of state itself can influence moral behavior. The pitting of one class against another is itself still quite morally problematic per Aquinas.

  • Let’s make this more simple. My question is for everyone who has thus far commented, but anyone else may answer, yes or no. Do you believe that assistance is “due” to the poor simply because they are poor and with no conditions attached to the assistance? I am not referring to whether it is through government or not. Just a simple question. Do you believe that assistance is “due” to the poor simply because they are poor?

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  • Poverty is relative. Who gets to decide how poor is poor enough? Materialists who don’t believe life is worth living if it isn’t physically comfortable? Christians, who know that there is more to life than material comfort?

    These questions are far more complex than you seem to appreciate. Like a lot of leftist ideologues, you puff yourself up on abstract ideology, failing to clearly define terms and account for cost limitations. No, all that matters is that your claim “sounds” moral, so moral that it doesn’t have to account for any real-world circumstances at all.

    This is precisely why Christian morality mostly focuses on the responsibilities of the individual. The individual can sacrifice himself for an ideal. He knows the costs and can decide that they are worth paying for his ideals. But individuals like you, who presume to dictate what other people ought to sacrifice for the sake of your ideals, can’t possibly know what the consequences of your policies will be, and whether they will do more harm than good.

    If someone meets a reasonable criteria for poverty, they are due to assistance from the community. If the argument is that this necessarily comes in the form of federal welfare bureaucracies, and that any opposition to these is opposition to Catholic teaching, I call you a charlatan and a fraud – or a fool who is completely out of his or her depth.

    I’m not saying you were ever that specific, Lisa. So lets see your hand. What concrete, specific forms of “assistance” do you believe are due to the poor? How do you define poverty? Who counts as poor? Who is responsible for providing this assistance? What level of government?

  • I don’t know much about this Lisa Graas, but since reading this, I have looked a bit further at the net, and found that she seems to freely bash Republicans. Is she a pro-abortion, pro-homosexual marriage, pro-socialist Democrat voting Catholic? I seriously ask this question.

  • No, James, she is a pro-life Catholic. She is independent minded, and as such often disagrees with the Republican party, particularly on economic matters. Often I agree with her criticisms of the GOP, though in this case I think her particular argument is without merit.

  • Do you believe that assistance is “due” to the poor simply because they are poor and with no conditions attached to the assistance?

    Yes.

    Ryan may talk about individuality versus collectivism in a way that makes you nervous that he doesn’t believe in the Catholic vision, but his budget plan specifically protects – and funds – programs for the poor.

    Part of the problem is in our political rhetoric. The current battle line is between a more collectivist vision versus a more individualistic vision. So the politician has to deal with the crisis at hand. He doens’t necessarily get to pick his battles. If the primary feud was between some social programs and no social programs, I imagine that he’d be defending social programs and articulating the policy issues according to the dominant themes.

    When Reagan said that government is the problem, he wasn’t embracing an anti-Thomist vision. Based on the decisions he made, he would have been comfortable with a smaller safety net. You could take his comment about government and argue that he was calling for anarchy, though. He was addressing the political issue of the time in a way that was understandable.

    And that’s the key thing. A politician has a responsibility to make his proposed policies understandable to the people. Part of that involves sound bites and signals. I suspect that Ryan would be as happy as Santorum was to articulate his entire viewpoint, but as we saw with Santorum, that doesn’t make good copy. And as much as I like it when politicians elevate the conversation, they do have to make copy, because most people consume their politics in small portions.

    As an aside, I think that Ryan would be more successful politically if he’d balance the Stark Differences rhetoric with more Common Ground rhetoric. It’d comfort the people who, like you, are nervous about him. It would also risk alienating the tea party types who are opposed to any kind of moderation. It’s a tough path to find.

  • I’m not just one of the usual suspects; I’m Keyser Söze, baby.

    My sense of Congressman Ryan is that he genuinely believes his path to property is in line with Catholic social teaching. I’m dubious given his misunderstanding of terms such as subsidiarity and solidarity and also given the simplistic ways in which he frames the moral/political conflicts, but I don’t question his sincerity of fault his fellow Catholics for supporting him. As for Rand’s influence, Paul’s been repeatedly open about this, despite rejecting her atheism and epistemology, and while he’s no Objectivist or Randian, his rhetoric and framing of the issues make evident that, like her, he’s something of an individualist and to some extent sees the world accordingly.

  • Kyle Cupp:
    “…and while he’s no Objectivist or Randian, his rhetoric and framing of the issues make evident that, like her, he’s something of an individualist and to some extent sees the world accordingly.”

    What is the intent of this diagnosis of yours? Is it supposed to be an indicator of future behavior? Is it supposed to identify and include/disqualify him in one group or another? Is it praise by you? Disparagement?

    It seems to me you think he doesn’t quite cut the mustard. Just asking.

  • Ryan’s individualism (which is not nearly so radical and Rand’s) doesn’t disqualify him from being VP or from being supported by Catholics, but it does seem to shape his understanding of Catholic social teaching: his definitions of subsidiarity and solidarity, while partially correct, miss the fullness of the terms as taught by the Catholic faith precisely because they’re too much informed by an individualism vs. collectivism binary. The Church envisions the human person both in terms of his being an individual and as part of a collective: it rejects both collectivism and individualism.

  • Bonchamps, poverty is how the government defines poverty. Is Ryan advocating to change the poverty line?

  • James, I think you have me mixed up with someone else. I do not “bash” anyone, least of all Republicans.

  • I am a former crisis pregnancy counselor for the Archdiocese of Louisville. I have personally witnessed how giving charity to the poor transforms the poor. One will not know charity if one never receives it. While Republicans would argue that charity causes dependency, I would argue that true charity causes one to know what true charity is, and one cannot know true charity without knowing sacrifice for others, and one cannot know resentment and dependency if one knows sacrifice, and that joy that is in that sacrifice. That’s where Jesus is, not in making demands of the poor as if they are doing something wrong by being poor.

  • Most of the young women I ministered to had been kicked out of their home by their parents or otherwise had no support from their families. Every one wanted an abortion because of despair of not knowing how to support the child. Every one had to have every need taken care of (rent, food, etc.). Every one chose life for her child. Every one got a job to support her child. All of them would be appalled by some of the comments on this Catholic blog.

  • Kyle, how’s that barbershop quartet?

    Matt Archbold has a post up that provides pretty good insight from someone who, like many others, was inspired to conversion by Ayn Rand but who ultimately rejected most of the foundational aspects of her philosophy.

    I read Rand at a later age than many young conservatives when they first encountered her writing, and was already familiar with the works of Hayak, Sowell, and so many others. Therefore I had little use for even the positive aspects of her work because I saw them better articulated by more well-rounded writers. But I don’t think there’s necessarily anything pernicious with having been inspired to some degree by her works, nor do I think it necessarily taints one’s overall philosophy having bitten the apple, so to speak.

  • More singing of the praises of Ayn Rand? How about this? Ayn Rand is featured in this very popular book from Ignatius Press: Architects of the Culture of Death I strongly recommend the book.

  • Lisa, I don’t think that last comment was fair. No one’s singing the praises of Ayn Rand. On the points where her writing conflicts with Catholic teaching, Ryan (and Zummo and I and probably everyone else here) rejects Rand. On the points where her writing can be reconciled with Catholic teaching, Ryan recognizes its merits. And there isn’t much of it that can be reconciled – just some of her economics, which is largely cut-and-pasted from her Enlightenment betters.

  • “[P]overty is how the government defines poverty.”

    Such an assertion is difficult to take seriously.

  • Pinky is right. Lisa, you are taking very unfair liberties with some comments, which does expose you to the accusation of dishonesty.

  • No, it is very serious.
    It is called an operational definition in science.
    In this case it is a bureaucracy that defines it in measurable terms that apply to everyone.
    The standard of living of upper middle class Americans at the turn of the century is lower than that of people whom the government calls poor today. And the standard of living of middle class Americans at the end of WWII is lower than the poverty line as defined by the government.

    Charlie

  • Agree, Charlie. And my point is that such a bureaucratically created operational definition is of no practical utility when it comes to a serious and sincere discussion the meaning and application of Catholic social teaching.

  • More singing of the praises of Ayn Rand?

    Remember, you (rightfully) don’t like the tone jvc takes with you in another thread. Saying that Paul’s comment praises Ayn Rand also coarsens the tone.

  • Yep, bureaucratic definitions of poverty may obscure more than reveal:

    http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2011/07/poverty-american-style.php

    Which is not to say that all of the poor in America have all of the things noted in the article. But it is accurate to say that you can have all of the amenities listed and still be considered “poor” by the federal government.

  • Wow. Well, where do I begin? How about removing the word “warpath” to describe what I’m doing? http://catholicbandita.com/romneys-ryan-pick-drives-the-wedge-between-catholics-deeper/
    –Lisa Graas 9:08pm

    Ha ha. Someone who styles herself “Catholic bandita” cries over the word “warpath” being applied to her course of action. A bandita is a female thief armed with a gun; the bandolier she wears – from which the word “bandita” is derived – carries her bullets.

    Let’s make this more simple. My question is for everyone who has thus far commented, but anyone else may answer, yes or no. Do you believe that assistance is “due” to the poor simply because they are poor and with no conditions attached to the assistance?
    –Lisa Graas 5:15am

    An interesting question. Let’s see, if Lisa herself answers “yes” then she’s stuck paying for abortions on demand – no conditions meaning exactly that. So, if she wishes to be a faithful Catholic, Lisa must herself answer her own question “no” just as, presumably, Ayn Rand would.

    I have personally witnessed how giving charity to the poor transforms the poor.
    –Lisa Graas 12:29pm

    Don’t confuse ‘charity’ with ‘government handouts’. I have personally witnessed how giving government handouts to the poor destroys the poor both physically and spirtually.

    If you hear anyone arguing that “charity causes dependency”, you’re hearing someone who is making the same error of confusing ‘charity’ with ‘government handouts’ – even if they are Republicans.

    And furthermore, don’t overlook that sometimes the greatest charity is tough love. Jesus, you may recall from one of the recent daily Mass readings of the Gospel, did not repeat the miracle of the multiplication of loaves just because the crowds were expecting that. From this and other examples, we can conclude that charity includes the responsibility of sometimes saying “no”.

  • Since charity is not to be confused with government handouts, why is the government’s assessment of who are “the poor” relevant?

  • Thomas Aquinas talked about “distributive justice”. The difference between Distributism and distributive justice is a recognized need of the other person, the neighbor and loving the neighbor for the love of God. The “JUSTICE” part comes in when man acknowledges that God is the Creator of all creation and especially man. “Distributive justice” acknowedges God as the Creator , endower and distributor of all. Distributive Justice is the working of Divine Providence. Distributism is the working of usurpation of private property and the refusal of the acknowledgement of man as a sovereign person created by the Supreme Sovereign Being.

    When the atheist denies the existence of God, the Supreme Sovereign Being, does the atheist really exist and does the atheist really have sovereign personhood when he, the atheist rejects his sovereignty from God? A good question for Ayn
    Rand

  • In addition: Distributive Justice is the practice of the virtue of CHARITY. Distributism is the practice of tyranny, communism, Marxism, totalitarianism, and utilitarianism. The practice of the virtue of Charity is voluntary. The extortion of taxes for distributism without assent and consent by the owners of the property of taxes is stealing against the Seventh Commandment.

  • “[P]overty is how the government defines poverty.” “… because poverty is what I say what it is.” And who are you who is saying it is what it is? Taxes belong to the taxpayers even while being administered by the administration. It is assumed that the consent and informed consent, of the citizen is granted across the board by the election, but the item must be put on the ballot for the will of the people to make itself known to those who serve in the public sector.

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22 Responses to Paul Ryan and Catholic Social Teaching (Roundup)

  • It’s been a while since you’ve posted here Chris.

  • While not perfect, Ryan offers a vision that is not contrary to CST. He does seem to get it wrong when he equates subsidiarity with Federalism. However, Federalism does not seem contrary to the concept of solidarity or subsidiarity and so seems a reasonable position to hold. In fact his error seems less eggregious than the one of equating solidarity with increased state involvement, increased taxes etc. So perhaps a B+ in his understanding. (Perhaps a good a grade as most clerics unfortunately would receive.)

    A solid A however, for offering a position which is consistent with CST and challenges those who believe CST is merely a theological formulation of leftist programs or fringe, quasi-economic theories.

  • In Ayn Rand more than anyone else, did a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism, and this to me is what matters most.

    Yeah, because those are two points that are really popular to defend outside of the libertarian circles and the standard Crazy Old Uncle….

    If folks have an issue with Ryan’s claim, please– explain who does it better? Not like ‘capitalism’ as a label is all that old; it’s not like the religious calls to groups over individuals haven’t been co-opted for political aims.

    I’m not going to hold my breath for a Bishop to defend the dignity of the poor when it comes to not being treated like house pets.

  • The best defense of the Ryan budget is this quote from Adam Smith:

    “When national debts have once been accumulated to a certain degree, there is scarce, I believe, a single instance of their having been fairly and completely paid. The liberation of the public revenue,if it has ever been brought about at all, has always been brought about by bankruptcy; sometimes by an avowed one, but always by a real one, though frequently by a pretend payment.”

    We reduce expenditures radically, or ultimately our economy will take a blow that we will be decades recovering from. I guarantee that in such a circumstance the poor will suffer more than any of us.

  • “We reduce expenditures radically, or ultimately our economy will take a blow that we will be decades recovering from. I guarantee that in such a circumstance the poor will suffer more than any of us.”

    This is one way to state the obvious. There is saying I used to hear all the time during my Navy days was that” S@#t rolls down hill.” I would have to say that principle applies here.

  • Note that it is possible to be guided by Catholic social teaching (which, as far as I can tell, is all that Ryan actually claimed) yet arrive at a conclusion the bishops find unsatisfactory.
    This is Ryan’s job – he undoubtably knows more about the facts and constraints of the problems than do the bishops. Many would like a solution that continues to fund entitlements as they are, but actual facts and constraints dictate that it is not possible to do that.
    The comments about ‘failing to protect the dignity of the poor’ sounds like a reflexive response. Many government programs erode that dignity; we are long overdue for an examination of the harmful effects that result. For example, school-lunch programs have expanded so much that they now cover multiple meals per day and almost everyone is eligible. Doesn’t this erode the dignity of parenthood, by removing the responsibility of feeding your own children?
    Many objected to welfare reform, too, decades ago…

  • Well, they didn’t exactly say Ryan is starving little children.

    The bishops don’t understand. The government is the problem.

    Case in point: in the first quarter 2012, the national debt expanded to $15.6 trillion. That is higher than the US gross domestic product for that date; and 1.5-times the percentage growth rate growth rate of the evil, unjust private sector GDP for which the Obama regime needs four more years to compete its destruction. Add to that unfunded commitments at the federal, state, county, and municipal levels and it’s HUGE.

    The national debt and local requirements will impoverish our children and grandchildren.

    Additionally, Re: Matthew 25 (it’s only in Matthew) doesn’t read: “I was hungry and you voted for Obama (fed me), I was thirsty and you attacked a Catholic Congressman (gave me to drink), . . . You get it.

    At the Final Judgment (Matt. 25): if you did it with other people’s money, it was not Charity.

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  • It’s precisely the way he has handled the Ayn Rand story that gives me pause on defending him. It appears to me that he wants to pretend that he never held her up as a model, but the record shows otherwise. When I see Paul Ryan defending life and marriage with as much passion as he defends the dollar, I’ll be more apt to be convinced.

  • [Foxfier] “If folks have an issue with Ryan’s claim, please– explain who does it better?”

    The problem for me is that there’s too much baggage attached to ‘Atlas Shrugged’ to see a Catholic politician promoting it to the extent that Ryan has. Recalling my tortured reading, I found it to be thinly-veiled propaganda piece in which Rand’s own Objectivism is piled on pretty heavily. Egoism reigns supreme. For me, it’s difficult to extract from Rand’s book a “morality of capitalism” that isn’t already tainted by her own philosophy and anthropology. It wasn’t just the left that opposed Rand’s philosophy, but mainstream conservatism as well

    As far as individuals who Ryan might have praised as having articulated an ethic of democratic capitalism, Ryan would have made a better impression if he mentioned F.A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, or better yet, Michael Novak (The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism) and John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus.

    For Ryan to consistently wax evangelical about Ayn Rand’s and Atlas Shrugged through the past decade, only to suddenly in the past week have an about-face and disclaim that her philosophy is wholly “anti-thetical to his own” strikes me as a bit … “opportune”. Why now? — well, if genuine I’m happy about his sudden revelation.

    That said, with respect to Paul Ryan’s work in Washingon — his budget proposals, his spearheading the critique of Obamacare at the health care summit, et al., I’m supportive. Clearly, he’s one of the few who actually gives a damn about where this country is headed and wants to do something about it. To those who criticize his efforts on the budget, I agree with Professor Garnet: the onus is on them to respond to the challenges that he identifies.

    [Greg] “It’s been a while since you’ve posted here Chris.”

    Thanks. Work has been crazy, but I’m appreciative to still have the opportunity. =)

  • Fully agreed, Don (on Ryan’s pro-life record).

  • Agreed with Lisa and Christopher on their qualms re: Ryan and Atlas Shrugged. I’ve written about the book before, and there is little redeeming about the tome. As Christopher said above, there are plenty of other great works that defend capitalism much more concisely and thoroughly without being morally objectionable. That said, Ryan’s record demonstrates a solid commitment to social issues as well.

  • All I know is that letting capitalism work and a free market system seemed to create enough income for our fairly large family with enough to share with those less fortunate, the pro-life cause, Native American needs. Now since the sewage of government intervention continually seeps into every aspect of our operation we have less money, therefore less time as we have to work more off the farm jobs, longer hours for much less and are so tired we are having a hard time keeping up with any of it.
    surely you cannot think that Paul Ryan’s plan would not take care of those truly in need. That’s what the goal should be. It might be hard for people at first but if the country could get back to work and real earned income came back into the system we might be able to pull out of this. As long as we continue to be socially engineered we haven’t got a chance. I still don’t understand how BO got elected in the first place. Gotta go, have to change light bulbs in the barn, and put soap in the milkhouse sink or we’ll get kicked off Grade A. “rules” ya better not break or the “inspectors” will make your life miserable.

  • Christopher B-
    I didn’t say “articulated an ethic of democratic capitalism,” I specifically quoted the explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism.

    Others may do a better job in covering the technicalities and whys and all the things that are important once you have the idea, but Rand is accessible to those who don’t already agree.
    Terry Pratchett has a running joke about “That is a very graphic analogy which aids understanding wonderfully while being, strictly speaking, wrong in every possible way”. The more I teach folks, the more that makes perfect sense.

    Incidentally? Searching on Bing for “The Spirit of Democratic Populism” brings up zero results.

    The other examples that come to mind are Animal Farm and the various movies that have clones as main characters who are going to be killed for their organs. Inaccurate. Drama over accuracy, and world view taints them…but they humanize a view enough for people to consider the reality.

  • Yes, Rep. Ryan’s about-face is peculiar (to put it gently), but here’s hoping.

    It’s probably giving Rand entirely too much credit to call her “philosophy” a philosophy, though her enthusiasts certainly wax flatulent in their praise of her “insights.” One called her the “corrector of Aristotle,” which makes me profusely thank God that I did not have a beverage making its way to my innards at the time.

    In fact, it’s best to think of Rand as the distaff half of the coin to L. Ron Hubbard, as I said to the misguided Rand groupie. The parallels are interesting:

    both were moderately talented (if woefully unedited) writers. Each wrote science fiction, or at least future-oriented fiction, and each enjoyed considerable success in the 50s. Both developed grandiose notions about their competence outside of the field of fiction writing, and each developed what they regarded as systematic wholistic philosophies for living and interacting with fellow humans. Both still have significant, if decidedly minority, followings today, and have followers who make unsupportable claims about their intellectual legacies and the applicability of their legacies to the problems of today.

    That said (and there was more than the simple motivation to zing Rand), I think it’s a little overblown to worry about someone getting ensnared into an objectivist worldview. It’s idiosyncratic, and only seems to have worked for an egotistical horny Russian emigre’ pulp writer of the female persuasion. Most will cull from it a few bits regarding the dangers of collectivism and move on. The rest can be ignored as they toil away in their cubicles.

  • Christopher B-
    found it, “The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism;” a political conversion story probably won’t change minds unless they’ve already been prepped to at least consider the idea that they could be wrong, and the emotional impact of a story tends to do that. (Side note: haven’t read any of Rand’s stuff, I can’t stand stories that are sermons before they’re stories, and folks whose taste I trust have told me that’s what she wrote. I just know that’s a strange turn of taste, and I know a large number of formerly unthinkingly leftist folks who are now slightly less unthinking libertarians because of Rand, and some who already went through that stage and are now fairly conservative, or at least think about why they think what they think.)

  • “a political conversion story probably won’t change minds unless they’ve already been prepped to at least consider the idea that they could be wrong”

    Perhaps. (Sorry for the ‘populism’ typo earlier, corrected). But to give some credit to Novak’s work — despite it being non-fiction, it has gone through a number of underground printings and being an inin then-socialist nations in the 80’s (Communist Poland, Czechoslovakia, etc.) and changed a few minds.

    I agree with your point — giving credit where it’s due, Atlas Shrugged has probably change quite a few minds from the left-wing socialist persuasion. Even so, Rand’s “capitalist ethic” insofar as it manifests itself in her fiction seems to me too irretrievably tainted by her pure egoism and materialism, leaving no room for altruisim (or even religion). There’s a reason why mainstream conservativism sought to distance itself from it upon publication (ex. Big sister is Watching You, Whittaker Chambers National Review 1957; or more recently, Paul’s own review).

    In the end, Ayn Rand’s fiction puts forth the worst kind of stereotype of “capitalism” (and the nature of the capitalist) that you could ask for — and insofar as we do Randian’s ethic is lauded as an ideal to be pursued, liberals couldn’t ask for anything better as a target.

    Hence not the kind of work I’d envision a professed Catholic peddling to the degree that Ryan has done over the years, so I’m relieved at hearing of his “repudiation” and hope for the best.

  • (Sorry for the ‘populism’ typo earlier, corrected).

    I insert totally different words related to a topic all the time, especially when I’m talking. Part of why I love typing instead– I can go back over and re-read in hopes of catching really bad examples. Probably some kind of diagnosable thingie, if I wasn’t just fine calling it me being all flutter-brains.

    In the end, Ayn Rand’s fiction puts forth the worst kind of stereotype of “capitalism” (and the nature of the capitalist) that you could ask for — and insofar as we do Randian’s ethic is lauded as an ideal to be pursued, liberals couldn’t ask for anything better as a target.

    Agreed– but it does so in a sympathetic way. I really wish that most folks my age were objective enough to not believe the worst stereotype of “the other side” was accurate, but that isn’t so; having a book that appeals to their existing tendencies while being Kabuki Heartless Capitalism is pretty effective. College libertarians aren’t great to be around, but they beat college anarchists.

  • The World cannot embrace the truth. If it could, capitalism would need no defense.

    Capitalism may be the worst economic system, except for all the others.

    Go to the historical record. Capitalism stands apart from other so-called economic systems. Anti-capitalist nations devolved into hell holes of universal envy and mass brigandage. They had one common denominator: command economy/socialism.

    Capitalism is the cure for poverty.

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  • I believe the criticisms of Paul Ryan and his admiration for Ayn Rand are examples of jumping to false conclusions or at least jumping to “false concerns.”

    Ryan is not inconsistent when he states being influenced by Rand’s economics, yet does not accept her philosophy in toto. Moreover, based upon what Ryan proposes, it should be obvious to even the casual reader that he goes way beyond anything that Rand would approve. How about letting these actions speak for themselves instead of lamenting over Ryan’s appreciation of Randian economic principles?

    As Aquinas was said to have “baptized” Aristotle, if you take all of what Ryan proposes, plus his pro-life and other Catholic stances, etc., you don’t have to conclude that he “baptizes” Rand, but he does find ways to take what Rand teaches (as well as others) and incorporate some of those insights into an approach consistent with Catholic teaching.

    But similar to the fallacy known as Reductio ad Hitlerum, some are jumping all over Paul Ryan in what might be called Reductio ad Ayn Rand despite the fact that Paul Ryan has distanced himself from many aspects of Randian philosophy that does not square with Catholic teaching. Ryan has made the distinctions clear, his actions illustrate this, and yet some people see his admiration for Ayn Rand economics as his defining characteristic, or it is considered to be very troubling.

    Here’s a logic-type question for all those who do not believe Ryan is “Catholic enough” in his economic philosophy because of his admiration for Randian economic libertarianism, and he “should” distance himself more from Rand:

    If Ryan’s appreciation for Ayn Rand is problematic because of some Randian views that do not square with Catholic teaching, then why is it not equally problematic to accept and even praise government involvement in various programs that help the poor to some extent, since the government champions many views that don’t square with Catholic teaching?

    Double Standard?

    DB
    Omnia Vincit Veritas

    P.S. I set forth a series of questions regarding “Moralnomics and the US Bishops” at my blog. If interested, you can check it out at:

    http://vlogicusinsight.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/moralnomics-what-the-us-bishops-fail-to-realize/

33 Responses to Paul Ryan: A Catholic Champion For Liberty?

  • I am surprised that I agree with you. But I would completely oppose Ron Paul about whom you wrote, “Nor can I possibly count my political support for Ron Paul as support for the GOP…” He’s delusional and anti-semitic. And the GOP is infinitely preferrable to the Demokratik Party of Marxism, Atheism, Homosexuality and Abortion. True, God’s kingdom isn’t of this world and the GOP isn’t the party of God, but the Demokratik Party is the party of satan.

    Romney 2012, NOT Obama. That’s our choice, like it or not.

  • The complexity of the tax code is the result of several things, one of them of course attempts at social engineering – at least in the sense of rewarding those actions the drafter sees as positive, and punishing that seen as negative. But another big driver of the complexity is the attempt to “work around” the tax code. The code will tax a transaction X, so taxpayers (at least those who can afford advisors), structure the transaction as Y. The IRS picks up on this and gets the code changed to now address Y. Then the taxpayers start to use Z, and so on.

    How much of the second complicating factor can be eliminated by “simplifying” the code is difficult to gauge. Regardless, my hat’s off to Ryan if he is truly sincere about incorporating CST into the fed budget. Even if he is not particularly successful, at least he is taking it into account and making the effort.

  • I suppose when the entire world is crazy, the one sane man would appear delusional.

  • c matt is correct about the Code, but the other driver of complexity is fairness. Fairness and simplicity are often not in alignment. After all, the simplest tax would be a head tax, but few people would consider that fair. There are other drivers of course, such as the desire to hide true tax incidence by taxing business entities which pass on these costs through some unknowable combination of reduced earnings/dividends, higher prices, or reduced wages, all accomplished somewhat organically and randomly. Trust me there are lots of others having to do with accounting complexity and division of tax bases among jurisdictions, etc. Any CPA (or even accounting major) knows that accounting rules and theory are not simple and can be subject to debate and uncertainty; it stands to reason that taxes will be at least as difficult.

  • “I suppose when the entire world is crazy, the one sane man would appear delusional.”

    Anti-semitic, conspiracy theorist Ron Paul is still delusion by any sane standard.

  • That’s a great Ryan quote. I’m sure I’ll use it when the old charge of objectivism resurfaces.

  • It could be just me, but Ryan sounds like he’d be a great running mate for a presidential candidate with no fiscal/business experience.

  • Truly pathetic turnout of protestors against Paul Ryan during his speech at Georgetown:

    http://twitchy.com/2012/04/26/protest-outside-of-paul-ryans-speech-at-georgetown-univ-lacks-actual-protesters/

    The Left just can’t turn out the numbers anymore for their street theater, even at a liberal university like Georgetown.

  • Mr. McClarey: Failing to “man the barricades”, er, get protesters to show up for a demonstration, is one result of over-dependence on slackers. See Instapundit

  • You know you are living in strange times when a politician does more to explain Catholic social teaching in a year than the bishops have done in over four decades.

    Like I said before, among the many things I like about Paul Ryan, his clear understanding of the importance of taking the Catholic social justice mantle away from the left and his efforts to do just that is far and away the thing I lke the most.

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  • Paul P.,

    Your comments about Ron Paul are the most delusional thing here.

    Charges of “anti-Semitism” are the last refuge of political scoundrels.

    This is what I think of 99% of the pathetic whining about “anti-Semitism”:

    http://youtu.be/TYZBKqemQrU

  • That said, I bloody well know that the options are Mitt vs. Barack. And I’ll probably vote for Mitt, only because of Obama’s assault on the Church – otherwise I was going to stay home or vote Constitution Party.

    What Ron Paul has accomplished is setting the stage for Rand Paul in 2016.

  • Bonchamps,

    We’ll agree to disagree.

  • Oh yes, we most certainly will.

  • Paul,

    If you think I haven’t already heard about and rejected this nonsense, you’re denser than I thought.

    Ron Paul isn’t a racist or an anti-Semite. I will not “wash my hands of him.” I’ve seen the charges against him and I’ve already decided “not guilty”, so you are completely and totally wasting your time with this garbage.

  • Wow! Believe what you want. I am done with this thread. No more reading what you say.

  • Fine with me! You have a nice day.

  • Ron Paul, nuttier than a fruitcake.

    http://hoystory.com/?p=7411

  • I will say that anyone, as Ron Paul did, who equates the U.S. going into Pakistan without their permission to kill bin Laden (never mind the fact there is good evidence that he was being harbored by the Pakistani government and would have been tipped off by them) with agents of the Chinese government doing the same to kill a Chinese dissident or that a nuclear armed Iran poses no threat has no business running for office of any kind.

  • I don’t want to debate foreign policy or Ron Paul here.

    I’ll post about both in the future and we can discuss them then.

  • On page 3 of The Catholic Herald, Superior Diocese, the headline reads, “Ryan budget proposal worries bishops”.

  • “You know you are living in strange times when a politician does more to explain Catholic social teaching in a year than the bishops have done in over four decades.”

    “On page 3 of The Catholic Herald, Superior Diocese, the headline reads, ‘Ryan budget proposal worries bishops’.”

    I would suggest the latter has something to do with the former. I might also suggest that the latter is due to a rather selective reading of CST by most bishops and the former, at a minimum, a lack of desire to teach the fullness of CST.

  • What he says seems pretty solid but why is he on the Democratic party?

  • Here is a budget indicator which ought to really worry Bishops.

    The US economy (GDP) last QTR grew by $142.4 billion. The US public debt grew $359.1 billion.

    This illustrates the fact that takers are taking 2.5x faster than makers are making.

    “The poor will always be with you.” Soon, we all will be poor.

  • “The US economy (GDP) last QTR grew by $142.4 billion. The US public debt grew $359.1 billion. ”

    One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist or a nuclear engineer to understand simple arithmetic. Thus will the Gospel of Social Justice die under the burgeoning and inexorable weight of its own illogic. Sadly, too many innocent victims will be (and are being) taken along for the ride.

  • I have unapproved several comments because Bonchamps will not be around to respond, and since several of these comments are critical of him, I believe it only fair that he deal with them as he sees fits.

    The American Catholic is a group blog. Each of us deal with comments in our threads as we deem best. I would note also that we each determine the topic of our posts and normally we do our best to keep the comments on topic. This thread was about Paul Ryan, and not Ron Paul, and I believe Bonchamps made it clear that he did not want to debate the merits or demerits of Ron Paul in this thread. That declaration of his should be respected by commenters on this thread. Let us also avoid personal attacks. That is not what this blog is for. Bonchamps is a talented writer and an original thinker and he has much to contribute to the blog. So everyone take a deep breath. I will be around this weekend and if any of our commenters wish to cross swords with anyone my threads are always available! 🙂

  • “On page 3 of The Catholic Herald, Superior Diocese, the headline reads, ‘Ryan budget proposal worries bishops’.”

    I am still hoping (against hope itself perhaps) that what Ryan is doing will force the bishops to actually address the issue of subsidiarity and its importance in a proper understanding of CST. If they had taken the opportunity during the Obamacare debate as well as at other times in the past to do that, we probably wouldn’t have had this HHS mandate problem to deal with. It seems they have thus far chosen to stick with being ideologues as oppsed to pastors and teachers on this issue and others like it.

  • The left often crows about “income disparity”, although income disparity is not, in and of itself, a problem. After all, if I am satisfied and reasonably comfortable with the my income, why should I care about the disparity between mine and some super rich guy?

    But there is a real disparity problem. And that is what we spend on these so-called entitlement programs and what actually goes to the recepient. I would like to see people like Ryan point these things out in a way that the common person can understand. I suspect if people knew how bad this particular problem is, they would clamour for something that would make Ryan’s budget like modest by comparison in terms of cuts in actual spending.

    To be sure, the next Reagan does not seem to be on the conservative horizon. But you don’t have to be Reagan to do many of the things Reagan did. One of which was the clear persistent pedagogical appraoch he took in making his case to the American public.

    In any event, I am optimistic about what Ryan is doing and that there is more where that coame from.

  • I simply cannot get ENOUGH of our bishops wondrous proclamations about politicos such as Paul Ryan and Arizona’s state legislators for example. Arizona’s resolute need to control its deluge of illegal immigrants prompted Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony to the cheers of other such Catholic pro illegal immigration advocates, to comment that Arizona immigration law is, essentially, akin to Nazism. The bishops’ who responded to Ryan’s budget proposal are as equally misguided, and they illustrate a manifest tunnel vision blindness to the practicalities of real governance. What they, and the organizations they foster, have themselves deemed necessary to do in light of Catholic America’s fiscal and moral crises of the last three decades, and to some degree by virtue of their own ineptitude; lock church doors or close the church altogether, close hospitals, schools, convents, seminaries, and adoption agencies is nothing that they would ever seemingly permit government similarly do. As one who has tried to avidly defend our beautiful Church against the onslaught of accusations from this secular, all the more atheistic society of ours, I in general find that the bishops make it ever so difficult to succeed at it.

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10 Responses to Notes on the Vatican Statement on Global Financial Reform

  • Ecclesiastics playing at being economic analysts is as hilarious as economic analysts attempting to play at being ecclestiatics. With good reason Christ, when asked whether it was lawful to pay tax to Caesar, simply replied: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things which are God’s.” Although I do think the entertainment value when this admonition has been ignored by either Caesar or the Church would be truly priceless if the results throughout history had not been so deeply tragic on so many occasions.

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  • They should concentrate on saving souls, even if it renders them “irrelevant” to the NYT/CNN crowd, and quit concocting schemes to wreck national economies.

    I apologize in advance.

    It’s infallible ignorance.

    Seems they think the Great Recession was created by free markets. Nothing could be more dangerously far from the Truth. The unemployment, the foreclosures, the crashing housing prices, the soaring food/fuel prices, the unemployment/underemployment could not have occurred without Washington (70% of offending mortgage derivatives were securitized and guarantied by FNMA or FHLMC; the Fed and governments keeping rates too low and bailing out LTCM, Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch; etc.) and over-weaning government interference.

    So, how does a One World Central Bank solve the multi-crises? We see, on a smaller scale, that that works oh sooooo swell in the Eurozone.

    Seems this malarkey represents the fruits reading the NYT and watching the idiot reds on Commie News Network.

  • Well, FWIW, this particular document seems to place a lot of the blame for the recession on the easy money and easy credit — thus essentially on the Fed. This is what a lot of Austrian economists would do, including those who go so far as to support returning to the gold standard. Krugman and the NY Times folks would hate that.

    Not that I think a World Central Bank is a good solution to that (or that I necessarily agree fully with the Austrian diagnosis in this case) but just to be clear.

  • Father Sirico, in today’s WSJ Op/Ed page makes similar arguments.

    I think the CNN/NYT/collective control/central planning/”one bank to rule them all” factions fear and loathe the gold standard because it removed their “policy genius” from the monetary “equation.”

    Abandoning the gold standard was true “deregulation.” It removed market forces from monetary economics and replaced with political forces.

  • Darwin is right. The document is being misinterpreted in many quarters, in some cases perhaps deliberately. That said, I really am uncomfortable with the Church giving counsel on matters that really do not pertain to the mission Christ delegated to Her. No matter how well-intended, such counsel will inevitably err in embarrassing ways, and thereby give ammunition to Her enemies.

  • Again, there’s probably material here to make just about everyone at least a bit uncomfortable. I’m willing to bet that the author considers at least some of what I would consider sensible market-drive ideas to be “utilitarian” or examples of “individualism” — though I would disagree.

    I felt quite comfortable myself, but anyhow, the distinction you make here between judging an ideology as bad and judging whether an idea falls under that ideology is an important one. The Church can be right that Ideology X is bad while being wrong about what ideas fall under Ideology X.

  • I seem to recall you saying, Kyle, that you yourself were a bit uncomfortable with some of the sections on a world Authority — being a bit of an anti-authority guy yourself. But that’s besides the point.

    I agree that there’s an important distinction to be made between judging that an ideology is incorrect and judging that a particular idea or policy much necessarily be an endorsement of that ideology. Of course, speaking of lack of comfort, this argument was perhaps made most eloquently in the Catholic context by the (heretical) Jansenists — who responded to condemnations of their writings by saying that they agreed with the Church authorities that the ideas being condemned were wrong, but disagreed that those ideas appeared in their writings.

  • My comfort was with the quoted paragraph to which you were responding in the section I quoted. Regarding the document as a whole, and specifically the notion of a global authority, yes, I am apprehensive.

  • Thank you Darwin, for a careful and thoughtful piece. More of this and less of Reese and Peters would help us all.

4 Responses to Forget Those Who Protest: Keep Watch on Jesus’ Disciples at Work in the World

  • I don’t recall having ever heard of MCI, but am grateful they exist. It was good of you to highlight their work and I couldn’t agree more about your assessment regarding the vociferous groups that do little to no good vs. those who quietly and humbly walk the walk everyday.

  • “Listening to the protesters who are getting their “face time” on television, one might walk away with the mistaken impression that there’s absolutely nothing the Church has to say about anything that is of any worth for today’s world.”

    Disgusting isn’t it? I’ve come to really despise the media.

    Nice post…btw.

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  • Thank God for what you are doing. We pray for more blessing

11 Responses to Wisconsin Bishops Neutral on Union Issue

  • “The teaching of the Church allows for persons of good will to disagree as to which horn of this dilemma should be chosen, because there would be reasonable justification available for either alternative. (This is unlike the case of abortion or euthanasia, for which reason can offer absolutely no justification in terms of the killing of an innocent victim.)”

    Bravo!

  • Hmmm, maybe parishioners should take a neutral stand on funding the diocese. Specially since many will be working with reduced incomes due to economic collapse. I respectfully disagree with the Bishop’s view of the two sides and his assessment of their relative merit. Where is the neutrality in bringing down duly elected government due to decades of democrat/union collusion and maleficence? Where was the Bishop’s helpful remarks during the last several decades of this of this train wreck brewing?

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  • There was a commenter over at another blog who observed that for many years, Catholics of politically conservative bent have (rightly) chided Catholic Democrats for being disobedient to the Church on issues such as abortion. Now, he said, perhaps it is the Republican’s turn to have THEIR obedience tested with the sharp anti-union (or more precisely, anti-public-employee union) turn in the GOP.

    Of course I realize the two issues are different in character and degree but I do think this commenter has a point.

    As Bp. Morlino himself notes, the Wisconsin union dispute is a true moral and social dilemma which has valid arguments on both sides and a faithful Catholic could come down on either side — which is NOT true of a non-negotiable issue like abortion. It is certainly not fair to accuse Catholics who side with Gov. Walker in this case of being disloyal “catholycs” a la Ted Kennedy or Nancy Pelosi, as some have attempted to do.

    However, this situation and the recent bishops’ statements should serve as a reminder to conservative/GOP-leaning Catholics to avoid getting too carried away with the faction of their party that opposes ALL unions, not just public employee unions. The Church defends the basic right to unionize, even if this does not translate into a corresponding obligation to all employers, private and public, to hire union members or fulfill their demands. The situation might also serve as a reminder to Catholics not to get too comfortable with EITHER political party or side of the political spectrum.

  • The Church defends the basic right to unionize, even if this does not translate into a corresponding obligation to all employers, private and public, to hire union members or fulfill their demands.

    If the employer cannot be obliged to bargain with this labor cartel, either by law or by rough justice administered by union members, they do not have much purpose other than as fraternal or benevolent associations.

    Questions of fair dealing in contracting for labor and questions of occupational health and safety can be dealt with via state and federal regulatory agencies. These can proceed without imposing unsustainable pay and benefit regimes.

  • I don’t know how much the unions can be thanked or not, since I’m not a union member. But the State of Wisconsin has been bedy bedy good to me. 90K a year, I hardly pay anything into my pension fund, a pension which will be very sizeable, indeed, and health care from one of the finest health insurance companies on the planet, all at hardy any cost to me, and free after I retire. WoHoo!

  • The bill in play does not eliminate public unions, but rather leaves benefits out of collective bargining. Wages and work rules are left in play. When the Church orginally supported the right to organize, I doubt it had in mind the right to extract a posh early retirement, especially one extracted from tax payers–the vast majority of whom do not have a posh early retirement in their future.

    One may as well say that the Pope belives that health care is a right, and since some people claim abortion is health care, one should believe that the Church therefore supports state funded abortion. Just becuase a right exists does not mean that every possible facet of it is reasonable or even permissible.

  • For God’s Sake, we pray..
    If only those so radically fearfull and protective of their union with UNIONS and willing to demonstrate in the streets and the halls of government should it be even the least threatened would be as dillegently active in the preservation of LIFE and MARRIAGE.

  • Make no mistake about it this is a political issue with far reaching consequences. On one hand you have the unions yet these are NOT the unions of the past. They are a revenue generating venue for specific political gain. LEADERS (emphasize) of unions ARE political and many are standing with communist parties. These union dues are being used to support this agenda and the pensions are being used to manipulate the markets.

    On the other hand you have the term union being used a dirty word. Trade unions are not the same as unions set up for civil servants and untrained workers. Trade unions have NO guarantees as to employment and are subject to the economic conditions of the time. In addition, they work for public and private employers and are not solely dependent on the taxpayer.

    Members of all unions SHOULD feel the economic sting of this depression as will all in the private sector. Remember the civil servants are a function of the private sector and MUST represent a fraction of the public sector. For this to happen they must be brought down to parity.

    I am a Catholic first and an American second but I do not see a contradiction in my stand. I see this as a political fight that I must weigh in on and one my church must stay out of for the time being.

  • An interesting point overlooked by the commenters seems to be the point that the public employee unions have agreed to take the pay cuts ordered by Governor Walker. They have chosen to sacrifice economically as many in the state have had to do. What the union members wish to preserve are their rights to collectively bargain as an effective group.
    Where are the statements of the states wealthiest or the large corporations on the sacrifices they are willing to be a part of to help Wisconsin? Their silence is deafening.

  • “Where are the statements of the states wealthiest or the large corporations on the sacrifices they are willing to be a part of to help Wisconsin? Their silence is deafening.”

    In regard to corporations any thing they would contribute to the State of Wisconsin would have to be passed on to their customers. Corporations don’t pay taxes, they collect taxes from their customers. If the Democrats in the state legislature think that a “soak the rich” tax plan is the path to solving Wisconsin’s budgetary woes, then I would urge the Wisconsin Democrat “fleebagging” senators currently in Illinois to go back behind the Cheddar Curtain, resume their seats in the State Senate, and forthrightly make their case. Wisconsin currently has an 8% income tax on those making $225,000.00 plus each year, so all they would have to do is figure how high they could raise it before wealthy taxpayers borrowed a leaf from their book and fled the state.

36 Responses to Analyzing Catholic Endorsements

  • Michael,

    This is a great post, and I agree with almost everything you say, especially:

    I have a very hard time believing Angle ought to get an endorsement over Cao under Catholic principles.

    Thomas N. Peters strikes me as very dogmatic when it comes to his conservativism (one need only peruse his posts at The American Priciples Project), which has had led to some very senseless justifications for his political and policy positions on Catholic grounds. Hence, Cao, who is, I would think, exactly the sort of candidate Peters and Catholic Vote would embrace and endorse, is not trumpeted. This, however, is par for the course for Peters. And there’s the rub: Cao voted for a bill that is contrary to Peters’ dogmatic views of the “proper role of government,” despite Cao campaigning and voting in accord with the chief tenets of Catholic morality.

    I don’t think it is a problem to be a Catholic and subscribe to many of the positions that typify American conservativism and that are not explicit directives of Catholic morality and social teaching (e.g., gun rights, certain conomic policies), though I do think a lot of these positions are untenable on philosophical and sociological grounds (but that’s for another time). The problem is when it is thought that those positions are deduced/derived from Catholic teaching, and that’s the problem with nearly all of Peters’ political commentary.

  • As you seem to indicate, it’s certainly appropriate for Catholics to endorse candidates who support Catholic teaching on non-negotiable issues of life and marriage.

    But I find it bizarre that anyone would call it “abusive” for Catholics to support political candidates that they think will help advance the public good on issues like health care, the economy, and immigration. We never said they were more important.

    As our website states, these issues are important. But they are not more important than life and family. However… they are not irrelevant either.

    Catholics should talk about what a just tax system and a just health care system would look like. If there are candidates out there that support this, why should we not support them?

    As for Rep. Joseph Cao, his campaign did not return our candidate questionnaire, which is required for our endorsement. Have them call us.

    We did however endorse Rep. Dan Lipinski, which I’m surprised you did not mention. Lipinski, like Cao, supported the health care bill with the original pro-life Stupak language. And like Cao, Lipinski refused to support the final bill which didn’t have the pro-life protections in it.

    While CatholicVote.org opposed the entire health care bill and not just the pro-abortion language, we still support Lipinski for standing true on his principles. We need to support pro-life Catholics like Lipinski or else the entire Democratic Party will be in the wilderness.

  • MJ:

    On twitter, Peters said Cao didn’t get an endorsement b/c Cao didn’t respond to some questions. Taking him at his word, it’s not as bad of an oversight.

    However, I think considering Cao is in a hotly contested seat, CV probably ought to do some following up with the Cao campaign, as Cao can use some help.

  • Yes, it is quite true that there is a problem when it is thought that positions are derived from Catholic teaching.

    Catholics have much to dislike of the right-liberalism (freedom! liberty!) that swims so strongly inside the American conservative movement (and in Britain and Australia, the parties and coalitions of the Right wear the proper labels).

    However, the cheerleading for leftist figures and policies that is justified in the name of Catholicism, as we see in the linked post as elsewhere, can truly be toxic to our discourse. First, if that ad is “racist,” well, then, what can you say? It’s a small but thuggish tactic to shut down an opponent. Have a good faith conversation about the meaning of the word? About why illegal immigration is such a big deal in border states? About how wages are impacted by the massive influx of low skilled labor in recent decades (Cesar Chavez was right about that, by the way)? NO! Bad racist so-called Catholics. Second, if that ad is noteworthy as overly heated, then the person noting that supposed fact is rather uninformed about elections – heck, there are about 10 that are “worse” (look at Grayson’s latest) just in this cycle, not to mention the very rough and tumble 19th Century, which puts even Lyndon Johnson and his daises to shame.

  • Catholics should talk about what a just tax system and a just health care system would look like. If there are candidates out there that support this, why should we not support them?

    Not going to let this slip, since you appear to be begging the question against Michael. What exactly does a “just tax system and a just health care system” look like? Can you give an example of an “unjust tax system” or an “unjust health care system” such that if an American politician were to endorse one or the other you would refuse to endorse him/her on Catholic grounds?

    As for Rep. Joseph Cao, his campaign did not return our candidate questionnaire, which is required for our endorsement. Have them call us.

    If returning your questionnaire is a necessary condition for endorsement, and assuming few candidates actually do so, then how exactly do Catholics (like me) benefit from a CV endorsement? It seems likely that you will end up providing little to no guidance to Catholics in most political contests. Further, there is obviously some asymmetry with respect to your endorsements and oppositions; it does not appear that returning a questionnaire is a necessary condition for being condemned by CatholicVote.

    While CatholicVote.org opposed the entire health care bill and not just the pro-abortion language

    This seems disingenuous, then. The health care bill that included the pro-life protections was not contrary to any Catholic moral or social principles, so your opposition to it could only be justified (if it even could have been justified in the first place) on grounds quite apart from expressed Catholic teaching. Calling yourselves “CatholicVote” while opposing policies that are not themselves in conflict with Catholic moral and social teaching is misleading and, it seems to me, partisan.

  • it’s certainly appropriate for Catholics to endorse candidates who support Catholic teaching on non-negotiable issues of life and marriage.

    No, that is not what I indicated. For a Catholic to endorse a candidate requires more than token acceptance of pro-life views on abortion and marriage, but rather a wholistic embrace of Catholic social teaching-an embrace rarely found in either party.

    For example, there’s not a word on the site about torture. How do you claim a candidate is Catholic without examining this issue?

  • Michael,

    As you point out, CV’s emaciation of Catholic social teaching and its vague reference to the “proper role of government” seems to be arbitrary.

  • Michael, you make good points (especially about that humorless crusader called Minion!). And I also respect Anh Cao a lot – my wife has donated to him, and I’ve been to fundraisers. Let’s say he’s one Republican I hope wins this year (even if I think he made the wrong prudential call on the final healthcare bill).

    You have flagged the core problem here. It is one thing to claim that some issues are more important than others, or to support somebody while holding your nose over certain issues. But the Peters brigade goes much further. While calling themselves “Catholic Vote”, they actually seize a principle about the role of government which is quite at odds with a Catholic understanding and a Catholic sensibility. While we can certainly have debates over the appropriate role of government, I think certain positions can be ruled out of bounds, and Angle’s ultra-liberalism is one of them.

    It is rooted in a philosopical principle that the Church has long condemned. To give just one of many examples, Pope Paul VI in Octogesima Adveniens warns about the attraction of liberalism as a counterweight to totalitarianism: “the very root of philosophical liberalism is an erroneous affirmation of the autonomy of the individual in his activity, his motivation and the exercise of his liberty”.

    In essence, it forsakes all notions of solidarity. In healthcare in particular, this “evil individualistic spirit” sees health as personal responsibility and opposes all notions that the fortunate must be compelled to subsidize the unfortunate. This was really at the essence of the healthcare debate. During the debate, the Peters brigade used abortion as a smokescreen to mask their true liberal position. This explains why not a single one of these people supported the House bill, which had the language on abortion approved by the USCCB. Only Cao…

  • I agree with what you say here, and MM did point out some rather questionable issues with some of Angle’s views, but I do have a hard time considering Reid pro-life. He may not be as rabid a pro-abort as some other Dems, but a Cao he is not. Yet some on VN are painting the Reid v Angle as a pro-life Dem v. pro-life Rep contest, as though there is no difference between the two on that issue.

  • but I do have a hard time considering Reid pro-life. He may not be as rabid a pro-abort as some other Dems, but a Cao he is not.

    I thought the votes MM quoted showed me enough to not trust Reid on abortion; whether Angle is more trustworthy I cannot say, as I am not from Nevada and have no real interest in the race.

    Michael, you make good points (especially about that humorless crusader called Minion!

    You know what? You want me to call you by the full name, you gotta have a shorter name. I come from a generation where if you have a name that gets more than three letters in text-speak, you’re doing pretty good 😉

    MJ & MM

    I have a hard time accepting that either party has an understanding the proper role of government. While subsidiarity does call for smaller government, it does allow for larger ones to step if there’s a problem that either can’t or isn’t being addressed by the smaller. Healthcare seems to fit that bill. However, the Dems didn’t seem really interested in constructing a system that was geared towards returning the system to more local control (local, not state). To be fair, they had a hard time constructing much of anything with the lobbyists and such, but it seems to me that both parties didn’t really represent solidiarity in that debate. Which approach did more violence to the principle is hard to tell and up for discussion-which is precisely why it’s so hard to say “x candidate is good on the issues” in this partisan environment. Both sides have some elements of social teaching in them, but neither has nearly enough to be called Catholic.

  • My position is that there are a few issues, abortion and euthanasia being among them, where there is a clear Catholic position. On most other issues the Church leaves her sons and daughters free to execise their wits and determine their own positions.

    This letter from then Cardinal Ratzinger to Cardinal McCarrick in 2004 has helped shape my thinking in this area:

    Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion. General Principles

    by Joseph Ratzinger

    1. Presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion should be a conscious decision, based on a reasoned judgement regarding one’s worthiness to do so, according to the Church’s objective criteria, asking such questions as: “Am I in full communion with the Catholic Church? Am I guilty of grave sin? Have I incurred a penalty (e.g. excommunication, interdict) that forbids me to receive Holy Communion? Have I prepared myself by fasting for at least an hour?” The practice of indiscriminately presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion, merely as a consequence of being present at Mass, is an abuse that must be corrected (cf. Instruction “Redemptionis Sacramentum,” nos. 81, 83).

    2. The Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin. The Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, with reference to judicial decisions or civil laws that authorise or promote abortion or euthanasia, states that there is a “grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. […] In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to ‘take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law or vote for it’” (no. 73). Christians have a “grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. […] This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it” (no. 74).

    3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

    4. Apart from an individuals’s judgement about his worthiness to present himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone, such as in cases of a declared excommunication, a declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin (cf. can. 915).

    5. Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.

    6. When “these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible,” and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it” (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts Declaration “Holy Communion and Divorced, Civilly Remarried Catholics” [2002], nos. 3-4). This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgement on the person’s subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the person’s public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin.

    [N.B. A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.]

  • I posted the folloing in the comments sectio9n of MM’s post.

    Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the “virtue of religion.” Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor. “You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.”(Lev 19:15) “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.(Col 4:1) Emphsis mine.

    Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1807

    I think the discussion would be better made if took are catagoris from the Church’s teaching rather than secular political talking points.

    Questions

    What is the proper due to of a government to it’s citizens?
    What is the proper due to of a government to non-citizens it has allowed to reside there.
    What is the proper due to of a government to non-citizens who have moved there in violation of it’s own laws?

    That is probably not exhaustive but to have just policy all of them must be answered in a way supports giving each his popper due.

    Without the hype Ms Angle’s add is accusing Senator Reid of wanting the Government to take from what is due citizens and lawful resident non-citizens and to give unlawfully present non-citizens more than their due.

    I do not know all the facts of the situation, and would most likely dislike them both if I did, but there is nothing inherently racist in the video. If you want to disagree with Ms Angle go ahead send some money to Senator Reid’s campaign, but the accusation of racism is over the top and not really conductive to charity.

  • “He also claims Cao did not return CV’s questions, explaining why there is no endorsement.

    Well we should be able to correct that problem down here

  • We need to support pro-life Catholics like Lipinski or else the entire Democratic Party will be in the wilderness

    A fellow named Stupak showed us all not too long ago that the promises of “pro-life” Democrats are worth less than a warm bucket of spit. I’ll not let myself be suckered again.

  • Thanks Michael for your post, though I am compelled to respond and disagree with much of what you and others have written. I do believe that the questions you raise are highly relevant to the conversation occurring within the Church today about the proper role of the laity in public life, and especially American politics. I should also note for those that don’t know, Michael has been, and continues to be, a guest blogger on CatholicVote.org and we continue to welcome his contributions (and disagreements) on our site should he choose to cross post there.

    CatholicVote.org was founded specifically to champion the cause of faithful citizenship from a distinctly lay perspective. As such, we seek to serve the Church by assisting the laity with material, catechetical resources, news and commentary, and tools for evangelization (videos, ads, etc) that incorporate an authentic Catholic worldview as applied to our civic life, in pursuit of the common good. To be sure, the issues that involve intrinsic evils, or questions that involve the “non-negotiable” issues are always treated as foundational, and not open to compromise or debate for Catholics. Our programming has almost exclusively been focused on the life issue, for example.

    However, it should come as no surprise that Catholic voters are confronted with a host of public policy questions where an authentic Catholic approach to a particular public policy solution is not as easily discernible. Your beef seems to focus on our use of prudence in reading Church teaching, particularly on the issue of subsidiarity, in evaluating and scoring candidates for public office. This is precisely the debate we hoped to spawn, namely, one that involves questions of prudence in the application of this foundational principle of Catholic social teaching to the questions of economic justice, taxes, immigration, health care, and other issues where Catholics in good conscience are permitted to disagree. To your credit, you acknowledge that our scoring analysis makes clear that we make no claim that Church teaching binds Catholics to vote and follow particular policy approaches on these prudential matters. That does not mean, however, that the principles and guidance of the Church should be ignored, or as some here suggest, be kept out of the public square by Catholic groups in the context of specific candidates seeking elected office.

    This is precisely where we hope to provide the laity some needed counterweight to the default socialist oriented, government-first, policy prejudices often assumed to be the more authentically “Catholic” position on many issues. We openly acknowledge our reading of Catholic social doctrine to incorporate the principle of subsidiarity in the development of policy prescriptions that seek to bring about the conditions most conducive to the common good. This reading of Church teaching, not altogether novel incidentally, leads us to advocate in many instances a more limited role for the federal government in the governance and control of policies that impact our economy, health care and so forth.

    I think it is perfectly defensible to suggest that the Church, particularly since Vatican II, and more recently the public statements from the Holy Father, urge the laity to assume a more active role in this area. Quite frankly, I continue to be disappointed in the reluctance on the part of highly competent Catholics (including many of your readers) to engage these questions head on. This is precisely the function of the laity, whom in many cases possess a level of competence or expertise in various areas (economic policy or health care delivery for example) that may exceed even that of our priests or bishops or, most certainly, the staff of the USCCB. This is in no way intended to slight our bishops, whom we serve and obey without qualification on questions of faith and morals. But it does seem to me of utmost importance that the laity assert their role, apply their insights and expertise in light of the guidance provided by the Church, and most importantly, not be afraid to say that their judgments are informed by Catholic social doctrine and tradtion. Catholic voters in return can more responsibly rely on lay groups such as mine as a place to help formulate and articulate political positions that are shaped and guided by the insights of the Church.

    Whether Sharon Angle for example should be supported by Catholics is a highly relevant question, which we unabashedly try to answer. There are some Catholics who may disagree with our judgment, but I find it odd, if not irresponsible, to suggest that Catholic laity (or groups using the word Catholic in their name) should shun such judgments.

    Finally, I think it important to propose that Catholics begin to work to overcome the “single-issue voter” critique, as if the Catholics who follow the Church’s teaching on the life issue have nothing further to contribute to the our national political conversation. We have much we can offer, and indeed must learn to articulate the ways in which the life issue is indeed foundational, by and through, our articulation of a Catholic approach to other issues. Socialist Catholic organizations have understood this for years, and have harmed the Church because, unlike you and me, they don’t truly take seriously the non-negotiable issues to begin with.

    I have written far to much for a comment box, and I could go on much further, but perhaps I should stop now and allow the discussion to continue. Your post, and the comments by your readers are indeed helpful and thought provoking. Like most here, I hope this conversation, and any success we achieve, contributes in some small way, to the New Evangelization, of which we are all a part. Any grammatical mistakes, spelling errors, or lapses in logic can be blamed on my lack of sleep from Monday night, having attended that glorious upset of the Packers at Soldier Field. Go Bears.

    But wait, a few final remarks –

    – our questionnaire that must be completed prior to any endorsement is the most extensive questionnaire that I know of. It is not multiple choice, and requires candidates to submit lengthy answers, including an explicit question asking about their opposition to torture;

    – those that read into the placement of issues on our website as indicative of the priority we place on these issues are simply looking to cause trouble; if the work we have done, and the commentary provided by Thomas and others on our site has not made plain that we believe the issues of life, marriage, and religious liberty to be foundational, then they I can’t help them.

    – Finally, the endorsements on our site do not constitute a comprehensive list of all candidates worthy of an endorsement or Catholic attention; because this is our first public foray with our PAC, we have chosen to keep our “slate” to a limited number of candidates who qualify for our endorsement, and whose races we believe to be significant

  • “A fellow named Stupak showed us all not too long ago that the promises of “pro-life” Democrats are worth less than a warm bucket of spit. I’ll not let myself be suckered again.”

    Words to live by Donna.

  • A fellow named Stupak showed us all not too long ago that the promises of “pro-life” Democrats are worth less than a warm bucket of spit. I’ll not let myself be suckered again.

    I know this debate dragged on for quite some time, and I do not wish to rehash it, but it is not at all apparent to me that Stupak betrayed any pro-life principles. Stupak remains a hero of mine and many other pro-life Catholics.

  • Well, IIRC, Stupak proposed an amendment that would have provided some pro-life protection in the health care bill, and voted for the package including the amendment (as did Cao). The Senate dumped the amendment, and when it came back to the house, Stupak voted for it w/o his amendment (Cao voted against after the amendment was dropped). So, who did his Father’s will?

  • For months Stupak, along with the Bishops and the vast majority of pro-life advocates, argued that the bill provided federal funding for abortion. He stated that he couldn’t support the bill unless it included language specifically excluding abortion. He said that, without such language, the bill was “unacceptable”.

    Then, when push came to shove, he voted for the very bill that he had previously said was “unacceptable” because it funded abortion. He chose voting with Pelosi over voting with the Bishops. Then, in defense of himself, and in speaking against Republican efforts to reintroduce HIS OWN Stupak Amendment, he smeared the very pro-lifers who had stood with him for months as not caring about health care for mothers and only caring about babies up until the time they are born:

    http://proecclesia.blogspot.com/2010/03/smear.html

    As if that weren’t enough, he then attacked the Bishops and other pro-lifers as “hypocrites”:

    http://proecclesia.blogspot.com/2010/03/smear-part-2-stupak-attacks-catholic.html

    I’d say that’s a fairly serious compromise of one’s pro-life principles.

    It’s funny because Rick Santorum is still raked over the coals (and rightfully so) for his far less egregious sell out of the pro-life cause in his support of Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey. It almost seems that every misstep by pro-life Republicans is magnified as a sell-out of epic proportion (and I happily join in on piling on the GOP when that happens). So why would we give more deference to a pro-life Democrat whose actions arguably will, if the Bishops prove to be correct, actually lead to more abortions via federal funding?

    I was one of Stupak’s biggest cheerleaders during the healthcare debate, and often referred to him as a “hero” myself. The fact that he is a Democrat made him even more of a hero in my book. I was even willing to support the final bill (a bill I otherwise opposed) had the Stupak language been inserted, and to encourage others to do so, just as a show of good faith that a Democrat who had up until then stood up for pro-life principles against the pro-abort Dem leadership would be rewarded for his actions.

    So I understand the desperate need to find true pro-life Democrat heros. But not at the expense of calling Stupak’s sell out exactly what it was – a betrayal of pro-life principles far more egregious and far-reaching in its consequences than most pro-life sell-outs.

  • Jay, Very true. Many pro-life activists were very excited about Bart Stupak for standing true to his principles. In fact, we at CatholicVote launched a video comparing him to Braveheart and encouraged people to Stand With Stupak (www.standwithstupak.com). The hope was that he would begin a strong and bold pro-life movement within the Democratic Party.

    Conservatives said that this was wishful thinking — that Stupak would betray the pro-life cause.

    And he did betray us. Like Jay said, he also attacked those who stood with him.

  • Nice article, Michael. To stir the pot a little, the focus on abortion and family as the greatest political issue may come into conflict with what John Paul II taught: “the one issue which most challenges our human and Christian consciences is the poverty of countless millions of men and women.”

  • “most challenges” can mean a lot of things, nate, not necessarily “this is the most important issue.” I do think the poverty around us-spiritual and material-is what spurs us into politics. What issues we address in order to cure that poverty is the question. Indeed, part of the difficulty is that in America we have artificially divided things into separate issues whereas in Catholic social teaching, as Benedict makes clear in Caritas in Veritate, all issues are part of a whole.

    This wholeness, in turn, makes voting difficult and endorsing almost impossible for Catholics in America.

  • Michael, in terms of substance, this is one of the best pieces I have read on this blog in a very long time.

  • “I was one of Stupak’s biggest cheerleaders during the healthcare debate, and often referred to him as a “hero” myself.”

    I reacted the same way Jay, a mistake I am going to do my best not to repeat.

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  • Jay,

    From this:

    He stated that he couldn’t support the bill unless it included language specifically excluding abortion. He said that, without such language, the bill was “unacceptable”.

    Then, when push came to shove, he voted for the very bill that he had previously said was “unacceptable” because it funded abortion.

    you make the following inference:

    I’d say that’s a fairly serious compromise of one’s pro-life principles.

    The inference simply does not follow. You can (rightly, I think) charge Stupak with inconsistency on the substance of the healthcare bill. But it does not follow from his inconsistency that he compromised his pro-life principles. He stated that he voted for the bill because of the Presidential Executive Order, whose content he deemed sufficient to block that content of the bill over which he objected. Now, we can debate over the efficacy and content of the PEO or whether Stupak misunderstood it, but either option would be a matter separate from the question over whether Stupak compromised his pro-life principles.

  • He stated that he voted for the bill because of the Presidential Executive Order, whose content he deemed sufficient to block that content of the bill over which he objected.

    But the statement that the executive order changed Stupak’s opinion is an obvious lie. The executive order has no effect whatsoever on the legislation; the executive order did not and could not trump the congressional legislation (as its text makes clear). I think Stupak has received more criticism than he probably deserves; I am certain his efforts did result in some marginal improvements in the ultimate shape of the legislation.

    But his performance at the end was simply a disgrace – first he bashed pro-lifers, then he lied about the significance of the executive order. There was no need for him to do this – he could have simply said – ‘look, I was bluffing to get the best pro-life deal I could in the legislation, and in the end they called my bluff’. Instead he tried to play pro-lifers for fools by claiming the executive order was significant (it wasn’t), and then kicked sand in their eyes with antagonistic comments. Certainly, he was under a lot of pressure, but let’s not pretend he behaved in an honest or praiseworthy manner. I’m discounting as unworthy of serious consideration the idea that Stupak was unaware that the executive order was meaningless – it’s possible he’s an ignoramus on matters relating to the most basic facets of his job, but I’m assuming (perhaps erroneously) that he is not.

    Lest you think I am mis-stating the significance of the order, here’s Slate and the Volokh Conspiracy puzzling over Stupak’s bizarre behavior in light of the legal effect of the order.

    http://www.slate.com/id/2248490/
    “Why did Bart Stupak hold out for a meaningless executive order?”

    http://volokh.com/2010/03/22/the-stupak-conundrum-why-did-the-stupak-nine-change-their-positions-on-the-health-care-bill-in-exchange-for-a-meaningless-executive-order/

  • I think there are two interpretations of what Stupak did.

    1) Stupak sold out. He was grandstanding to make a name for himself and to get more favor for his vote that he could trade for earmarks for his Michigan. The pro-life schtick was a sham.

    2) Stupak realized at the 11th hour that he had failed and that Obamacare would fund abortion. Hoping to at least bind the Obama administration as much as possible, he traded his vote, which he now knew was meaningless, for the EO in order to at least slow down the flow of abortion funds into the coffers until the GOP could come back and fix it.

    #1 doesn’t make much sense, because it seems to have been a gross miscalculation as everyone dislikes him now. #2 doesn’t square away with the comments he directed towards the pro-lifers who had faithfully backed him. The whole thing doesn’t quite make sense, and Stupak is still trying to argue the EO means something (he & pro-healthcare Catholics seem to be the few who think this). Until he comes clean, we can argue about it. But I think it’s possible that Stupak made a prudential error in voting for the bill in order to get the best pro-life protection he could get-which wasn’t much, if anything.

  • I just think he was sincerely pro-life and pro-health care and pro-his career. He was under a lot of pressure and made some poor choices (and voting for the bill wasn’t necessarily one of them). There is no legal basis for claiming the executive order accomplished anything. None. It’s impossible for me to believe that Stupak doesn’t know this, given that he was (theoretically) holding hostage Obama’s signature initiative for this reason. My problem is less with his actions re: voting, than how he went about it, which reflected some combination of foolishness and dishonesty, although we can disagree about how much there was of each. It’s one thing to vote for the bill. Quite another to make obviously false statements about the rationale for said vote, and attack pro-lifers in the process.

  • This:

    the statement that the executive order changed Stupak’s opinion is an obvious lie.

    Does not follow from this:

    The executive order has no effect whatsoever on the legislation; the executive order did not and could not trump the congressional legislation (as its text makes clear).

    This problematic way of drawing inferences is what I pointed out about Jay’s commment.

    There seems to me to be no grounds for the following three claims:

    1. Stupak compromised his pro-life principles (made by Jay)
    2. Stupak betrayed the pro-life cause (made by Joshua)
    3. Stupak lied (made by John)

    None of these three claims follows from the facts of the matter. Instead, each claim depends by and large on speculation about Stupak’s intentions and understanding with respect to the bill and the PEO. It may be the case that Stupak made an error of judgment about the nature and content of the PEO and its precise relation to the bill, and we could criticize him for this mistake (if he made one) and express our disappointment that he made it. But to attribute ill-will to Stupak (e.g., “he lied,” “he betrayed us”) or to claim he compromised his faith and principles is to not only go well beyond the facts we have available to us, it is to give no benefit whatsoever of the doubt to him. In that case, I question the motives behind portraying Stupak in the worst possible light (it’s hard to imagine saying anything worse about his legislative actions than that he deliberately compromised key Catholic moral principles or willingly deceived pro-lifers).

    A more charitable take on the Stupak case is that he misjudged or misunderstood what was at stake with respect to the PEO. This seems to me to be more plausible than the speculation offered in this thread.

  • A more charitable take on the Stupak case is that he misjudged or misunderstood what was at stake with respect to the PEO

    It is possible for a third way-that he understood that it was weak, but took the deal because it’s better than nothing. That doesn’t mean he betrayed his pro-life principles, but rather did what he thought best to secure the best pro-life bill he could.

    But to attribute ill-will to Stupak (e.g., “he lied,” “he betrayed us”) or to claim he compromised his faith and principles is to not only go well beyond the facts we have available to us, it is to give no benefit whatsoever of the doubt to him.

    I think his comments from the House floor really hurt a lot of his former supporters. While they could be more charitable, Stupak did also stir the fire against him and made a lot of mistakes in handling how he switched his vote so that mistrust is understandable even if not ultimately justified.

  • Stupak decided to fight the good fight, until the going got rough and then he capitulated unconditionally. Obama gave him the executive order as a figleaf, nothing more. More’s the pity if Stupak has managed to convince himself that what he did accomplished anything for the pro-life cause.

  • MJ,

    I would be willing to buy your take and to have given Stupak the benefit of the doubt had he not, after all was said and done, attacked the pro-lifers who had stood with him. Had he not called the Bishops and other pro-lifers “hypocrites” for their pointing out the worthlessness of the Executive Order.

    The evidence of Stupak’s bad faith lies not in conjecture on my part, but in his words and deeds since he switched his vote.

  • John Henry and I haven’t always agreed on everything (usually differences over form rather than substance), but I know him to be one of the more thoughtful and measured contributors here. He is not prone to harsh words about anyone, and in those very few instances where his commentary does take on an edge, it is almost never without justification.

    I also know John Henry to have once held Bart Stupak in the highest esteem.

    So, the fact that John Henry now takes this tack with regard to Stupak’s actions gives me confidence that Stupak’s critics here are not acting uncharitably or in bad faith in forming their assessments of him.

  • None of these three claims follows from the facts of the matter. Instead, each claim depends by and large on speculation about Stupak’s intentions and understanding with respect to the bill and the PEO. It may be the case that Stupak made an error of judgment about the nature and content of the PEO and its precise relation to the bill, and we could criticize him for this mistake (if he made one) and express our disappointment that he made it

    Respectfully, MJ, you seem to be ignoring the main issue and injecting doubt into the discussion about the executive order where none exists. Everyone from Ezra Klein to Slate to the conservative law profs at Volokh agree that the Executive Order carried no legal force; it did nothing to modify the law and said as much in the plain text of the Order. Stupak’s claim on that score is simply false, and your comments haven’t acknowledged that. Once we understand that his statements were clearly false, we are left with two (unflattering) conclusions:

    1) Stupak knew they were false, and was trying to save face by claiming the Executive Order had some legal force.

    2) Stupak made a deal completely misunderstanding its contents.

    As I said, I find the second explanation implausible; Stupak was holding the entire health care reform bill hostage over this issue. Either he knew or he should have known that the deal he made was meaningless. I don’t even see why 2 is really all that much more flattering than 1; is it really more flattering to portray him as an ignorant dupe than a politician caught in a tight spot who decided to lie to cover up for his reversal? Your comments suggest you think it is, but you haven’t explained why. There is no ambiguity here legally; pretending there is simply wishful thinking. As I said, Stupak has received more criticism than he deserves; that does not mean the criticisms are wholly unfounded – your comments here have been rather obtuse.

  • He is not prone to harsh words about anyone, and in those very few instances where his commentary does take on an edge, it is almost never without justification.

    I don’t really agree with this – I have wished I were more charitable towards people in comment threads (including you, as you know) many, many times – but thank you for saying it. As for Stupak, I think it was fine for him to make a prudential judgment about the health care reform bill; I just think he should have been more upfront about his reasons for doing so (or if he was being honest, he shouldn’t have agreed to a deal that he clearly didn’t understand).

0 Responses to Why Aren't There More Worker Co-Ops?

  • The principles of neoclassical economics are a flashpoint in some Catholic circles, where the mainstream economist is derided for his “science” and unwavering belief that economic phenomena are defined by something akin to scientific laws. But what are we to make of this:

    An increasing percentage of Mondragon employees, for example, do not have an ownership stake in the company, but work for it much as they would for an ordinary business. But while this may be a solution for a particular co-operative business, it is not really a solution for the co-operative business model so much as a gradual abandonment of it.

    The Catholic criticism of mainstream economics is fair enough — get the anthropology in the correct order before positing homo economicus, we’re told. I sympathize, but if there’s an incentive against expansion because of share dilution even at Mondragon, how do we square this apparent inevitability with the insistence that politcal economy and economic institutions are not deterministic?

    (This is a bit off topic and might make a good topic for a separate post.)

  • I don’t know that it’s necessarily that far off-topic. My issue with most discussions of economic “justice” is that they inevitably drift over toward equality of outcome at the expense of equality of opportunity. That is precisely the issue, it seems to me, with Mondragon and other worker co-ops.

    SOmeone has to set a relative value for the stuff being co-op’d. Whoever does that will be required to make value judgments as to the relative worth if various inputs to the system, and then to relate those values to outcomes. If we’re all OK with me being paid less than Blackadder because I only input potatoes while he inputs truffles (does anyone not-French really eat those things?), then we’re good. But when Blackadder becomes richer than me because his inputs are more valuable than mine, many Catholic sociologists will cry foul and seek to level the playing field. THAT’S when we get into trouble.

    Concentration of wealth, or resources, or whatever, into the hands of less than the entire society is inevitable, unless we desire to take everyone to the lowest comoon denominator. And remember: when everyone is at a subsistence level…the poor will STILL be with us, except that none of us will be able to afford largesse to aid them!

  • “If employers and employees find, for the reasons given above, that worker co-ops are less preferable than other forms in many circumstances, there is nothing wrong with that.”

    I really hope the assumption here isn’t that anyone ever said there WAS something wrong with it.

  • Deacon Chip,

    ” But when Blackadder becomes richer than me because his inputs are more valuable than mine, many Catholic sociologists will cry foul and seek to level the playing field. THAT’S when we get into trouble.”

    I agree. And Catholic social teaching is clear – men have a right to make a profit from their labor, to enrich themselves. They also have a MORAL obligation to use their wealth charitably (which is NOT the same as saying that the state should force them to; unfortunately we live in a world in which people can ONLY imagine obligations coming from the state, since they no longer believe in God).

    “Concentration of wealth, or resources, or whatever, into the hands of less than the entire society is inevitable, unless we desire to take everyone to the lowest comoon denominator.”

    I completely agree. But “less than the entire society” is very broad. It could mean almost everyone, or it could mean almost no one. What Catholic social teaching makes clear is this: in so far as POSSIBLE (the exact words of Pius XI and a paraphrase of JP II), we should look for ways to make more people full participants in the economic process – through degrees of ownership and control of the means of production.

    This doesn’t mean “do it, even if it will ruin the company or the economy.” It means, “examine each situation to discover how far this general principle can be applied, if it all.” And even BA is forced to admit that in some sectors of the economy it DOES work.

    In any case, we also have to remember that the aim of CST is to prevent or mitigate class warfare. The Church has always recognized a polarizing tendency in what we call “capitalism” and has suggested Distributism as ONE way of addressing it.

    The other ways – labor unions, and state assistance, have mutated into corrupt bureaucratic enterprises. In fact I would argue that it is because of a false hope that men in all classes put in these institutions that the real solution, Distributism, was never really tried on a mass scale.

    Now that the bankruptcy of organized labor and welfare-statism is evident, I believe the already empirically demonstrated upward trend in employee ownership (which I pointed out in this post:

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2009/06/25/worker-ownership-%E2%80%93-the-untold-stories/)

    will continue. Though some people make a career out of denying it, the dog-eat-dog individualism of the unfettered market does not and will not serve as the foundation of a stable or a just or a moral society. We are social beings, we are meant to live, to work, and to worship as a community (without negating our individual dignity or rights, of course).

    As a final thought, even Ronald Reagan supported employee ownership.

  • Pingback: Round Up – May 11, 2010 « Restrained Radical
  • Though some people make a career out of denying it, the dog-eat-dog individualism of the unfettered market does not and will not serve as the foundation of a stable or a just or a moral society.,-Joe Hargrave

    Dogs don’t eat dogs – despite the claims of those who make a career asserting it. However the 20th century experience with unfettered collectivism demonstrates that socialists do eat other socialists.

    I am pleased to see Blackadder’s article explaining that worker co-ops are rare not because they are wilfully suppressed by Secret Masters of Political Economy (SMOPEs) but because they are naturally selected against by people’s own individual choices. I am amused by advocates of distributism who use mass-produced computers and a ubiquitous Internet to stump for distributism without regard to the fact that such tools subsist in an economy where large capital formations are commonplace. As Blackadder put it, “worker co-ops tend to be disproportionately concentrated in labor intensive, capital light industries.” These haven’t been the commanding heights of a Western economy since the Industrial Revolution, maybe not even since the days medieval Benedictine monks built water wheels, windmills, and forges adjacent to their monasteries.

  • Micha,

    The extent to which you go to misrepresent arguments is well known, and unworthy of a response. I’ll pray for you.

14 Responses to Charity, Act Not Emotion

  • Did anyone ever say anything about an emotion when talking about love? No. More importantly, my post had nothing to do with being “progressive.” Anyone who has any understanding of the traditional role of government, instead of the free-market liberalsm, will know it is a traditional understanding to see the government enforces justice (which included regulating financial abuses to help society as a whole).

    More importantly, it is rather ironic to try to claim I am one who forgets the incarnation and we are to be incarnational. You entirely ignore the whole point of the post which is to look beyond economic charity — to be truly giving of oneself to another in love (not an emotion; in caritas) — to someone real, in front of you. To point out that real incarnational love is capable no matter what social position or status one is at. One should point out that Bill Gates himself needs charity — in the true sense, not the superficial “I give money to a cause” sense. Love indeed is to be given — and once we move beyond toe false “give money” sense of love (which is truly gnostic), we really can move on to true up-lifting modes of love. Where is the lack of incarnational theology in this? Nowhere. The fact of the matter is it is given to real persons before you — that no matter who they are, there is still room for LOVE for CHARITY– points to this.

  • I do not have any social statistics on the matter, but I think you need to consider certain qualifications with regard to your portrait of family care for the aged:

    1. It is atypical for the aged to live with their children, but it is not unusual at all for retired parents to move to be near one or more of their children. In my limited circle of acquaintances, I have seen the opposite as well multiple times: middle-aged people taking jobs near their elderly parents as a precautionary measure. The difference between residence with and residence near might perhaps be attributable to the general increase in affluence since my grandfather and his brother took charge of their mother and father between 1945 and 1949.

    2. I think if you investigated matters, you might discover that three-generation households of the sort you describe were typically not long in duration. (In the case above, four years).

    3. Sorry to be a repetitive bore, but custodial care supplementing and supplanting family care is not a novelty. The population of state asylums fifty years ago was 9x what it is today. Among their charges was not only people insane from schizophrenia and tertiary syphilis, but also the senile and the retarded as well.

    4. With regard to the homeless: the Urban Institute offered many years ago that there were 600,000 homeless. Given the increase in the general population since then, perhaps the number is now 700,000. Providing basic subsistence for a client population that size (with much volunteer labor) likely would not set you back more than about $10 bn. I think philanthropic donations in this country are typically around 2% of domestic product, or around $280 bn. Organizations like Covenant House can handle the homeless and might be more likely than public bureaucracies to supply the ministry necessary to move some of these folk back into workaday life.

  • Darwin,

    Thanks for the good post. Referring to Mr. Karlson’s Vox Nova post, I think it is a mistaken to think that the “what about charity?” argument seeks to keep people in poverty so that charity can occur. I really think it operates on the other side of the equation – how does charity occur when the resources that would be devoted to it are confiscated (taxed away)? In a perfect socialist world, the government would provide all basic necessities to those in need; however, I never see us reaching that perfection. The poor will always be among us, and will always require some form of charitable assistance. I hope the charitable among us will still have the means of picking up that slack.

  • “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”

    Winston Churchill

    The problem with socialism is that sooner rather than later the socialists always run out of other peoples’ money, as the welfare states in Europe are demonstrating and Obama and the Democrats in Congress will soon learn.

  • The problem with so many responses here: nothing I said was about socialism — bringing out that social justice is the role of the state follows Catholic Social Teaching. To point out that the common good is to be met by the state is not socialism. To say this is not to say that everyone has to be at the same level — it is that there is a minimum level everyone has to be at. Once there, you can and should have a diverse society, but again, those who have more are expected to use it more as stewards, knowing that everything is given to their custody by God.

  • Henry,

    You may not have intended your post to be progressive, but I think it certainly displayed a strongly progressive sensibility in two senses:

    1) While it is true that traditional Catholic teaching holds earthly justice to be the responsibility of the state, it is indeed a new and novel understanding of “justice” to take it to mean assuring through statist social welfare programs that “there is a minimum level everyone has to be at”. In traditional Catholic countries, throughout the centuries, the material help of the poor was addressed primarily by Church institutions, not state institutions. Indeed, statist social welfare programs were initially pioneered in Europe by anti-clerical regimes in the 19th and early 20th centuries, having already done much to dismantle the Catholic institutions which had served a similar function. So at a minimum, I think it’s reasonable to take your reading of this as progressive both on the modern political spectrum and also as an interpretation of Catholic teaching.

    2) The idea, which you hint at (at least in apposition to the current state, whether or not you mean it to be seriously achievable), that it is reasonably achievable to reach a society in which all people truly receive an equal minimum standard of living via the beneficence of state programs, is certainly a politically progressive vision and quite arguably a humanisticly progressive vision as well, in the sense that we have never seen such a society in actual existence in history and positing that one is achievable seems to mean positing a change in basic human behavior.

    —-

    I certainly did not mean to suggest (nor have I ever heard anyone suggest) that charity has its only form in providing money directly to people or to some sort of fund. Indeed, I would think the examples I provided (parenthood, providing for aging parents, etc.) made it clear that charity is often expressed through and formed by some other more direct and personal act. However, I think it is very important to be clear that charity is nurtured through acts, not merely through some sort of general good disposition. In that sense, arguing that charity will take place regardless of whether the practical need for it is replaced by statist programs seems to deny the important of actual acts in developing, nurturing and expressing charity.

    For instance, to take your example, it is certainly true that Bill Gates is in need of charity, in the sense that he is, like any person, in need of having love expressed to him in relationship — primarily through acts. Obviously, in his case, the acts through which he needs charity to be expressed to him do not include providing food, shelter, money, etc. But that doesn’t mean that charity towards Bill Gates involves the amorphous good will of those disputing on the internet either. Bill Gates needs charity in that he needs those with whom he interacts to treat him in a loving fashion, though acts. The only way in which I can think of that any of us could provide charity to him would be to pray for him — which people are certainly welcome to do, I’m sure he needs the prayers.

    —-

    You say your primary point was indeed this, that charity is expressed primarily through loving acts towards real people whom we encounter, rather than simply proving them with money (often indirectly). I’m sorry that I missed this in the piece, as it’s a point I basically agree with. However, even so, I think it’s important not to draw an artificial barrier between charitable acts which provide a material help to people (food, clothing, shelter, money, etc.) and loving acts of some other sort.

    As I pointed out with the example about rearing children: it is often the providing of necessities which teaches us to love in the first place, and it is only as the love grows that we learn to provide love in other ways as well. When we purposefully sever all of the bonds of dependence within society so that we can live the individualist dream with the help of the state — our livings assured regardless of our interactions with other persons, begin to choke out the very personal interactions which teach us love.

  • Art,

    Certainly, as you point out, the fact that aging parents seldom now actually live with their children doesn’t mean that children don’t have any interactions with the aging parents. And for those with the means or opportunity, people often did seek others ways out in times past rather than providing care themselves. (My wife and I actually lived in a three generation situation for a while with my grandmother in her last months, and I can certainly agree it’s often not fun or easy.)

    Though also to shade the details a bit here: the situations I’m talking about with my Indian coworkers don’t necessarily involve frail parents needing care. It just seems to be standard practice that when a father retires, he and his wife start moving in their their children rather than paying rent. This usually ends up with them providing primary care for their grandchildren, while often both child and in-law work.

    Also agreed that some of the items I mentioned can be tackled quite handily (and perhaps better) by private organizations than by the government. I was just trying to think of a couple of highly visible forms that government “charity” programs often take which one wouldn’t necessarily see vanishing. Unemployment benefits and the FDIC were probably much better examples than food banks or homeless shelters.

  • The FDIC is an actuarial pool. It does not qualify as charity (unless you regard insurance companies as charities).

    It seems my point went by you, so I will re-iterate. I offer that elderly parents live in separate digs from their children because they have the disposable income to do so as part of the general improvement in levels of affluence over the years. The elderly often prefer not to live with their children, even when they are welcome to do so. In 1947, a bourgeois like my grandfather got to work with a mix of public transportation and long walks, owned one car which only his wife knew how to drive, suffered the summer months as he had all his life as a born-and-bred Southerner, heated his house in the winter with coal in a furnace he got up in the middle of the night to stoke, and had seen a good many of his teeth leave him behind. He also had his mother and father stashed in his little suburban house nine months of the year. His counterpart today has everything but those wretched wisdom teeth the oral surgeon took out, drives to work, wimps out with air conditioning, has a gas furnace he thinks about only when the bill arrives – and lives about a ten minute drive from his mother’s ducky garden apartment.

    What cannot be readily replaced by purchases is the labor and individual attention one’s children can offer, which is why you see both parent and child moving to be near each other even when such is not, strictly speaking, a necessity. Both are calculating that there may be (or will be) a time when such is necessary. Also, when your mother is in a hospital or nursing home, she needs an advocate. Which is to say she needs you, even though an institution is caring for her in most respects. It’s easier if you live right there.

  • Art,

    Agreed that the FDIC is not a charity — though I certainly wouldn’t consider other safety net programs to be charities either. For instance, the health care bill, which many liberal Catholics have insisted is a necessity for justice in our country, basically just forces people to belong to actuarial pools.

    I don’t think that any of the government programs which fill the place which closer social solidarity might otherwise cover count as charitable in the least. They’re programs which in some sense or another grant us more security to allow us to lead life individually. The FDIC is perhaps a reach, but I think that at least in how people experience its effects, it’s arguable. Since it guarantees deposits, it makes people far more inclined to save in banks rather than in hard assets such as family held valuables. By getting savings into banks, it helps overall circulation, and allows greater lending. If instead we lived in a world in which only those who thought they knew enough to be sure which banks were “sound” actually put their money into banks, while others hoarded cash or valuables, we’d probably have an economy in which people had to rely much more on extended family for large purchases rather than relying on credit. Etc.

    I don’t disagree with your point about living with parents. It’s something a lot of people don’t prefer to do if given the choice, so the simple increase in wealth would probably make it less common even without social security and medicare. That said, given that many people are not actually all that great at planning for the future, I would imagine that without those programs a lot more people would end up falling back on three generation familial arrangements, or a lot more money transfers within extended families.

    Though, of course, if those programs had never existed in the first place we might have a much heavier cultural emphasis on saving which would result in most people being in the same or better shape by retirement either way. Maybe the programs breed improvidence more than isolation.

    I wonder how one could try to examine the question…

  • Henry Karlson, above, seems to have said a lot of true things, while failing in the end to come to the correct conclusions because he neglects that force and charity are antitheses; that love which is forced is not love. Since government does absolutely nothing without exercising force (sometimes directly and strongly, sometimes indirectly and softly), much of what he’d advocate under the banner of incarnational and communal exercise of love turns out, in practice, to look a lot like a crowd of nine wolves and one sheep voting on how best to feed the hungry.

  • R.C. I have not argued that the government is acting in charity, only in justice. Justice IS the domain of government.

    DC actually, the state throughout history was also gave all kinds of help and aid to the poor, and enforced a level of justice which got undermined with the change into a capitalistic system. For example, they had rules such as one could “eat off the land” as long as one only took what one could eat and needed to eat from the land. That wasn’t a Catholic institution giving to the poor, it was the government forcing landowners to give. This is just one example among many. Again, Catholic Institutions, as always, and in any situation, would and should give in charity according to the time and place, so that it gives over and above what was being done by the government. This would always be the case, even in a more just society.

  • The FDIC is not an income transfer program either. It is a receiver of insolvent institutions. Its funds, as a rule, come from assessments on member banks, and it usually expends little from its funds. It typically administers haircuts to the creditors of the bank not subject to its guarantees and marries the bank off to a healthier institution.

    Social Security and unemployment compensation are income transfer programs and Medicare and Medicaid are collective consumption schemes. They are not actuarially sound pension and insurance programs. So they count as ‘welfare’ (though not, strictly speaking, charity). Military and civil service pensions may aspire to be actuarially sound programs predominantly financed by the contributions of their beneficiaries. They are, however, typically subsidized defined-benefit programs. You would not call that ‘welfare’, however. ‘Rent extraction’ would be a better term.

    Programs such as Social Security and Medicare induce people to save less than they otherwise would. I have never attempted to make a bibliography of the literature on this topic. IIRC, Martin Feldstein made his bones as an economist studying just this question.

    You do raise the point that time horizons vary according to social stratum. Edward Banfield built much of his interpretation of contemporary urban life on this observation and Gloria Steinem has also written on the question, but I do not think much discussion of this makes it to general audiences and no politician is likely to acknowledge it. It is the variation in time horizons over the community that (I think) makes a measure public provision of certain services (medical and custodial care) advisable. With regard to just about anything else, the circumstances of the impecunious can be improved by rectifying perverse features of the tax code. (Tax relief is not charity either).

    One thing you make a glancing reference to is the decay in relations between shirt-tail and collateral relatives. I think this is a much more severe change than that between elderly parent and adult child.

  • I was reading Aristotle’s Politics, and came across this passage which seems remarkably relevant (not just to this post, but in response to the ill-educated folks who claim that private property is a creation of the Enlightenment):

    http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/politics.2.two.html

    Property should be in a certain sense common, but, as a general rule, private; for, when everyone has a distinct interest, men will not complain of one another, and they will make more progress, because every one will be attending to his own business.
    * * *

    And further, there is the greatest pleasure in doing a kindness or service to friends or guests or companions, which can only be rendered when a man has private property. These advantages are lost by excessive unification of the state.

    The exhibition of two virtues, besides, is visibly annihilated in such a state: . . . liberality in the matter of property. No one, when men have all things in common, will any longer set an example of liberality or do any liberal action; for liberality consists in the use which is made of property.

    Such legislation may have a specious appearance of benevolence; men readily listen to it, and are easily induced to believe that in some wonderful manner everybody will become everybody’s friend, especially when some one is heard denouncing the evils now existing in states, suits about contracts, convictions for perjury, flatteries of rich men and the like, which are said to arise out of the possession of private property. These evils, however, are due to a very different cause- the wickedness of human nature. Indeed, we see that there is much more quarrelling among those who have all things in common . . . .

25 Responses to Social Doctrine is Ours… Let's Take it Back!

  • I support the complete dissolution of the CCHD. The money could be used to help save Catholic schools from closing instead of funding socialist and anti-Catholic organizations that promote class warfare and hate.

  • In other words you disagree completely, Tito? 🙂

    Seriously, though: I happen to think that *everything* is redeemable/reformable, even CCHD. And as I argue, the idea — seeking to address poverty in a systemic & structural manner — is worth fighting for.

  • It’s worth fighting for, through Catholic organizations.

    I don’t like giving our money to anti-Catholic organizations that in the end would persecute us if given the chance.

  • I don’t either, which is why I support reforming CCHD, including ditching the ban on giving to Catholic entities.

  • I don’t know enough about addressing poverty through a systemic and structural manner, but I do trust our faith in doing what is needed in this area.

    The CCHD is completely incompetent and irrelevant to this task as much as the USCCB is (but that’s for another day).

    Let’s scuttle them altogether and come back with a new plan under a new committee in executing this. The CCHD is infested with self-avowed communists (Ralph McCloud) and leftist bishops that could give a damn about our faith unless it promotes social revolution (I am speaking in regards to Bishop Morin).

    Kick the bums out.

  • …promote class warfare and hate.

    Tito – you nailed it.

  • leftist bishops that could give a damn about our faith unless it promotes social revolution (I am speaking in regards to Bishop Morin).

    What are you referring to, Tito?

  • Chris,

    Bishop Roger Morin.

    His continued defense of the indefensible.

    After mountains of evidence showing that some of the programs funded by CCHD are anti-Catholic, he continues to deny that they aren’t.

    He lies through his teeth.

  • People who donate to the CCHD do so willingly, and partly because they know the campaign is about “human development.” (The other part if obedience to the envelope in their box.)

    Catholic catechesis is another fine opportunity to offer one’s material resources. And if such donations are made to students who are primarily poor, then that would be in keeping with the principle.

    However, the failure of Catholic schools is not a problem that can be fixed necessarily with money.

    The problems, real or perceived, of CCHD are also not going to be fixed by a drumbeat of insult, however couched in fact-checking rhetoric. People will give to the CCHD this weekend, and some will give more knowing others are on the warpath against it.

    Talking louder and more often does not seem to be convincing either bishops or CCHD leadership. Indeed, many high-profile conservative bishops have spoken in favor of CCHD.

    Giving to CCHD or not is a prudential issue. But it has the support of a large number of bishops. It would seem that CCHD’s most vehement detractors are practicing a variation of cafeteria Catholicism here. It is one thing to investigate the CCHD and its beneficiaries. Another to withhold one’s own money. Another to urge others not to donate. And entirely another to call a bishop a liar.

    Is this line of criticism effective or realistic?

  • “addressing poverty at a systemic & structural level is both necessary and thoroughly Catholic, ”

    I know the answer is not simple, but what does this mean? Does this mean Catholics are morally obligated to argue for government to redistribute wealth and provide social services?

    Is Catholic Social teaching a set of moral principles to inform politics or is it more than that?

  • Todd,

    It shines a light on a depraved process inside a decrepit organization.

    Because our bishops are beholden to no one and when they ignore charitable approaches to resolving the issue, they leave no room for discussion.

    Hence why I posted about it.

    Believe me, if my bishop would have listened to what I had to say and taken action I wouldn’t have posted this at all.

    And yes, this line of criticism is effective.

    Just because it makes you and others uncomfortable doesn’t make donating money to the CCHD right.

  • It strikes me that one of the additional sources of controversy surrounding “addressing poverty at a systemic & structural level” is that those with progressive and conservative dispositions will probably see what that would mean in very different ways.

    Painting in very broad strokes, conservatives tend to think that if people are given an education, opportunity, and a strong work ethic, that they will generally be able to improve things on their own, and at most will need direct help when they run into misfortunes.

    Progressives, on the other hand, often seem to think that people are already doing everything they could themselves be doing, and that what’s needed in order to improve their condition is for someone to come in and raise awareness so that the government will give them things or ordain that they will be paid more for the same work, etc.

    This doubtless results in a lot of difference over what a structural program that would assist those in poverty would actually look like. It also probably accounts for the fact that conservatives index more heavily towards liking direct aid for people currently in desperate circumstances — because they assume that once people in poverty have received some help to get back on their feet, that they’ll go and improve their overall condition themselves. I’ve often heard progressives dismiss such direct help as enabling poverty to continue — which probably makes sense if you assume that people are fundamentally incapable of improving their own conditions no matter what they do.

  • Tito, I wouldn’t interpret my stance here as discomfort. I’m a critic, and an unconventional one at that.

  • Echoing part of Darwin’s comment, I’d note — perhaps responding at least in part to Zach’s question — that “addressing poverty at a systemic & structural level” is not synonymous with calling for help from the government, let alone the feds. *Can* it mean that? Sure. Does it *have* to mean that? No.

    I subscribe to the theory that politics is downstream from culture… while there is certainly a feedback loop, culture is primary. So when I speak of addressing poverty at a systemic & structural level, I’m thinking first about efforts to change the culture of the local community, at the level of the local community. Darwin’s strokes are a bit overly broad for me (and he acknowledged their breadth)… I think there it’s thoroughly conservative to try to address the cultural underpinnings of poverty, and that’s what I’d like to see the CCHD do.

    Tito, the fact that Bishop Morin appears somewhat obtuse with regard to what CCHD funds in no way makes him a leftist who promotes social revolution.

  • CCHD is not reformable. It is not a person. It is a half-baked socialist idea that infiltrated the Church along with a great deal of other smoke from Hell.

    Human Development is a big theme, maybe the biggest, in the Pope’s most recent encyclical and it does not mean anything close to what CCHD does. CCHD is a dehumanizing and government-promoting endeavor masked with Catholic-sounding words that are used in a socialist context.

    A Catholic organization that is under the direction of the Church must be concerned with the salvation of souls before any other mission including feeding the poor. As a lay Catholic I am called to take care of all I come in contact with as I would Christ. The Church is not called to that to the same degree – the Church is called to save souls first. I can’t save a soul but I can feed a poor person – and I should be a good Cahtolic witness while I am at it.

    CCHD does none of these things. Time for it to die.

  • How is CCHD’s mission socialist, Knight? Why is it irreformable?

    Listen, the whole point of the post was to talk about the idea of development, not the way in which one organization has failed to promote human development worthily.

    I’d challenge your ecclesiology in the 3rd ‘graph, Knight… you are a part of the Church, of course, and as laymen we have a particular responsibility to carry out the mission of the Church, in a great many variety of ways. To refer to the Church as an entity separate from us is problematic… it leads to conclusions such as your charitable work is not the Church’s.

    I can’t stand the errors of CCHD more than anyone else, but I think it’s too soon to be talking the nuclear option.

  • It was set up on the Saul Alinksy radical model to fund non-Catholic social(ist) organizations.

    Why bother reforming it? We have many other better models to delivery Charity and Truth and stay true to Church teaching.

    Chris, we are members of the body of Christ, so yes, we are Church; however, a bishop can celebrate Mass and I cannot; a priest can hear confessions and I cannot. We are one church but we have different functions. It is time for Bishops to stick with pastoral care, administration of the Sacraments and informing our consciences in communion with the Bishop of Rome. Leave the community organizing to the proper ilk that are predisposed to that sort of thing.

  • “addressing poverty at a systemic & structural level is both necessary and thoroughly Catholic”

    I know the answer is not simple, but what does this mean? Does this mean Catholics are morally obligated to argue for government to redistribute wealth and provide social services?–Zach (12:54 pm)

    I’m suspicious of the true agenda of those who spout Leftist code phrases such as the one Zach identified. The basic moral instruction the Church should be giving to one and all is most proper and most effective way to address virtually all genuine “systemic and structural” poverty there is in the United States today.

    Envy (the practical motive of any leveller) and enabling destructively immoral behavior aren’t part of “the Church’s social teaching.”

  • AK has been swallowing talking points from too many sources. In one breath, he complains about “government-promoting endeavor” and in another “Saul Alinksy radical model (of) social(ist) organizations.”

    Yet again, we have an emphasis on charity to the exclusion of justice. Not to mention a seeming ignorance of Matthew 25.

    I don’t see CCHD going away any time soon. What happens to the Catholic Right is they’re stuck with it? Just another seasonal Angry Event.

  • Todd,

    I appreciate the criticism. It certainly helps in forming ideas. Please help me a little more. It seems that you think that ‘government-promoting endeavor’ and ‘Alinsky radical model’ are incompatible. Am I right? If so, why? I see them as one and the same dehumanizing force – please help me clarify your thoughts. I am not suggesting that you are wrong but I can’t see a reason to agree with you.

    Charity and Justice are also not mutually exclusive. I hope I did not suggest that. Charity, properly understood is Love. Justice is also Love, love of God and in that love our neighbor. I owe God justice by observing the precepts and commandments of His religion. I owe justice to my fellow man by the same mechanism.

    Charity can be taking care of the acute needs of the poor and Justice can be helping them solve the reason for their poverty. I am confident that faithful Catholics agree on that. Where we may disagree is on the means of how to achieve those noble goals. The Church doesn’t tell us how, and if she did she would not be infallible becuase the method is not a matter of faith or morals – the goal is.

    I am not in disagreement with the stated intention of CCHD. I am in disagreement with the means to that stated intention and also the evidence that in practice CCHD as worked to achieve the opposite ends.

  • ok, Knight, I’ll bite.

    Are you saying that the CCHD’s problem includes government? I can’t say I’ve followed the list of organization grants carefully, but I didn’t see any government agency on the list in my diocese.

    Our government is much more beholden to the excesses of capitalism and Big Bidness than socialism.

    I agree with you there are many dehumanizing forces in the world. They are much more often due to extremism that the particulars of philosophy. By themselves, socialism, federalism, capitalism, or most any other philosophy has good points rooted in what some people think to be a better way to live. The problem is when the philosophy becomes the idol and God is set aside.

  • Todd,

    It was not a debating snare. No need to bite. I think we are coming closer to some agreement.

    I don’t think CCHD gave any government agency money directly; however, many of the groups that received CCHD money also recieve government money. Unlike USCCB, the money from the government doesn’t come without strings (to be clear I think Catholic money should come with strings – strings that require witness to the Gospel). This effectively places our material charity in organizations with a secular-government slant, which renders the material charity devoid of true Charity.

    We also agree that our government is beholden to Big Bidness; however, we disagree that it is beholden to the excess of capitalism (I take you to mean free market capitalism). Greed is not inherant in capitalism; greed is inherent in fallen humans. The problem is we are taught to look at capitalism and socialism as oppsities, when in fact they are twin sisters. Socialism approaches economic and eventually total control from the angle of ‘social justice’ and ‘class struggle’. Capitalism approaches from the ‘market’ perspective. Both are lies.

    Socialism seeks to use social influence from the masses by promoting envy and coveting to wrest control from the ‘merchant class’ and capitalism seeks to use corporate consolidation (monopoly, duopoly) to wrest control from the ‘merhcant class’. The means both systems use is government coercion and the ends will be the same: Absolutism, either oligarchy or dictatorship. Keep in mind Russia’s errors would not have been possible without support from wealthy Western industrialists.

    In that case their is no room for charity or justice.

    We need to begin to approach our ‘systemic’ concerns from the perspective of true, authentic Charity (Caritas, which is Love) at the most reduced level: person to person and from there up and out respecting subsidiarity. This keeps Charity on the level of each of us loving our neigbor in Truth and also subsidiarity is more likely to promote Justice than consolidated power and decision making do.

    Authentic Human Development as expressed by the Church and most recently Papa Bene is only possible on the human level where in the institutions are subject to the human person rather than the human cog subject to the institutional machine.

    Like I said, we can fall into the quagmire of partisan and ideological rhetoric (I am very guilty of that) or we can transend and find authentic ways to promote the general welfare, the common good properly understood in light of Truth, since we have the same ends in mind: The Kingdom of Heaven. What we must remember is that we cannot seperate the means from the ends. We need to use His means to seek His ends becuase fallen human means and fallen human ends are hellish.

  • I’m for the nuclear option.

    I refuse to wait until my grandchildren get a corrective on CCHD.

    By then we’ll probably be the United Socialist States of America and that isn’t going to happen until they pull my gun away from my dead hands!

  • Chris,

    Thank you for the response – very helpful for me.

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5 Responses to Fr. Robert Barron reviews Michael Moores Capitalism: A Love Story

  • He says the same thing I’ve been saying for some time. Moore is good at identifying the problems – it’s just his Socialist (thus materialist) solutions where he departs Church teaching.

  • The idea that everyone should keep just enough to cover essentials and give the rest away is intriguing, and probably aspirationally correct, but using government to do this will not work. Pretty much everyone will stop working soon after covering the essentials. Very little will be produced that can be given away. This fact can be illustrated by tax rates. At a 0% tax rate the government gets essentially the same revenue generated by a 100% tax rate. It is why the Soviet Union economic motto was “we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.”

  • Our modern world had become intentionally complex leading to much confusion about what is meant by words. Capitalism and socialsim/communism are such words and we’ve had another thread on here addressing that.

    What Moore fails to do is be honest. He is a Marxist and his attack on ‘capitalism’ isn’t designed to point out the perceived excess in capitalism but seeks to promote the virtues of socialism. Fr. Barron already killed that argument.

    Furthermore, the excess in capitalism is not inherent in the system of a natural free market; rather it is in the disordered appetites of fallen humanity. The solution is not a better capitalism, but a more virtuous human. That cannot be accomplished by any materialist system. It requires a massive cultural shift away from the vices of modernism and an upward view of life.

  • That Priest is a great teacher.

  • Moore against capitalism? Not according to the IRS and Fleet Financial, a high-end brokerage firm out of Boston.
    Check out the PF990 forms for his one-man operated non-profit: Center for Alternative Media and Culture. The year he made Stupid White Men, and claimed not to won any stocks, he told the IRS his foundation owned $280,000 in corporate stock and $100,00 in corporate bonds.
    His foundation has owned Pfizer, Merck, Genzyme, Elan PLC, Eli Lilly, Boston Scientific, Pharmacial Corporation, and Tenet Healthcare. . Not what you’d
    expect from a man who made Sicko. Hates big oil and Haliburton – then why did he own stocks in them?
    The above and more is from Peter Schweizer’s Do As I Say (Not as I do). Check our enviornmentalists Ted Kenneday and Nancy Pelosi. What hypocrites!
    Bottom line, the guy is a multi-millionaire who has treated the Catholic Church contemptimbly over issues such as marriage, contraception/abortion, homosexuality and now tries to get “approval” from the Church when it suits him.
    Rerum Novarum specifically condems socialism and is adamant about the principle of subsidiarity. Centisimus Annus confirms it. I’m not sure where Fr. Barron get the idea that big government interference is warranted to correct injustice. Lest we forget – big government in the form of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is part of the problem.
    The Acton Institure and the Distributist League disagree with each other but the traditional New Deal as nostalgia school of economics that Fr. Barron subscribes is one thing both groups disagree with!
    Anyone familiar with the 2004 Nobel Prize in Economics? It went two two Americans who documented that government spending during the Depression actually prolonged it by five years.

8 Responses to Best Candidates for Employee Owned Companies

  • Fun stuff, fun stuff.

    Ok, here are my comments.

    1) As you say, the first points against EOCCs are uncontroversial. Again, following J.S. Mill, or more recently, Robert Dahl and other advocates of economic democracy, it is widely acknowledged that there must be a period of worker-investor partnership. The shares alloted to workers are necessarily smaller, so that investors can profit. The idea is that a successful business will be able to gradually change the ratio of worker to investor ownership in favor of the workers.

    As Mill wrote, “it is even likely that when such arrangements become common, many of these concerns would at some period or another, on the death or retirement of the chiefs, pass, by arrangement, into the state of purely co-operative associations.” Others have suggested other means the same ends might be achieved.

    2) Regarding democracy, you write,

    “The success of such companies rely heavily on the creativity of the management team, and so they’re naturally going to be strongly top-down organizations. Democracy is much better at inertia than creativity, and thus the top down structure.”

    I think perhaps the fallacy here is the assumption that all decisions must be subject to a democratic vote. I would not propose that rank-and-file workers be granted creative control over new projects, or even a democratic veto. Of course the management team, if it so desires, can seek such input.

    But there are many, many operations besides the development of creative ideas that must take place in a company, no matter what they do. Administration, distribution, accounting, etc. There are day to day operations which have nothing to do at all with the creative process – there is no reason why the by-laws governing these non-creative processes cannot be democratically decided or influenced by those who must carry them out.

    The rank-and-file worker does not necessarily need a direct say in every decision made, in other words, in order for there to be democracy. The idea is to extend as much control and provide as much accountability possible within those areas that most directly affect the workers.

    3) Further on the topic of democracy, you write of large firms that

    “an individual worker’s vote is not going to count for much with so many employees.”

    I must object once again. I’ll leave aside whatever parallels might be drawn with political democracy and the implications that might have.

    Rather, I would suggest that, again, the concept of democracy need not be so narrowly applied. It need not be limited to a guaranteed vote on every matter. It may be as simple as having a say in the by-laws that govern a particular worker’s area of a particular firm, and a mechanism by which management can be held accountable. Or it could be more expansive. It depends upon what workers, managers, and investors are willing to agree upon.

    4)Here are what I think are serious problems: Ultimately a degree of good will must play a role, since I imagine that to many investors, it appears that a firm that keeps its workers in line autocratically or oligarchically will be more focused on the bottom line than one in which, yes, operations might be potentially held up by deliberations. This is one area where arguments against unions and arguments against economic democracy overlap; rising and falling stock values sometimes follow the victories and defeats of management versus labor.

    Superficial calculus might declare that more shares for the workers means less shares for the investor, but if worker ownership and democracy lead to greater productivity – and I think they can, do, and will continue to – then everyone wins.

    What we need are socially conscious investors who strive to do with their money what Christian morality demands of them, or their secular social conscience, or call it what you will. This is not to say that people should make BAD investments as an act of charity, but perhaps that they should forgo super-profits overnight for more modest returns over a period of time.

    For, in the end, if the model works, it works. There may be situations where slavery or some other hideous form of exploitation would yield even greater profits than the typical capitalist firm, but we avoid those and outlaw those because they are morally reprehensible. We let, in other words, a moral consideration, a view of the human person, draw a limit for our economic behavior.

    There is no reason this cannot also be a positive sentiment – instead of abstaining from a bad form of investment for moral reasons, engaging in a good form of investment for other moral reasons.

  • I would not propose that rank-and-file workers be granted creative control over new projects, or even a democratic veto.

    In what sense, then, would the company be “employee owned”?

  • In the sense that workers own shares and earn dividends from them…?

    I suppose I should say, it isn’t necessary that every worker have control over every process in EOCC. It is sufficient that they have control over their immediate area of work, have the ability to hold all management accountable for their leadership and performance, and own shares in the company.

    I mean, do investors typically insist on control over the creative work of the management team? No. They own the company but, to use an example Darwin might be thinking of, they don’t sit in at every meeting to design the next video game, they don’t hover over the shoulder of the screen writer or the producer of the next movie.

  • Here is the guy who blazed the train here in the US

    Learn how Jack Stack and his fellow employees transformed a failing division of International Harvester into one of the most successful and competitive companies in America using the principles of Open-Book Management.

  • Your typical investor isn’t going to be sitting in on board meetings, at least not at a large company. But if they don’t like the way the company is being run they can sell their shares, or vote against management at the next election. Because of this management is going to be very concerned about keeping shareholders happy, and would be unlikely to do anything that would upset the shareholders.

    In the case of a typical public company, keeping the shareholders happy isn’t inconsistent with a great deal of creativity and growth within a company. Where the shareholders are employees, however, the situation is somewhat different. Unlike a typical shareholder, who has invested only a small portion of this income in a given company, an employee shareholder will have almost his entire livelihood dependent on how the one company does, which is going to make him less willing to abide high risk/high return strategies. In addition, if an employee’s shares are going to be diluted whenever a new employee is hired, that is going to make employee shareholders less willing to expand, as doing so could lessen the value of their own shares even if it makes the company as a whole more successful.

    Mind you, all of that is premised on the idea that shareholders have some indirect control over management stemming from their ability to sell their shares freely and/or exercise voting rights. Presumably, though, you don’t think that employees should be able to sell their shares freely, as if they could the “employee owned” company would quickly become a regular investor-owned company. And based on your recent comments, it doesn’t seem like you think employee shareholders should have voting rights either (I kind of doubt that this is your view, but that’s what it sounds like from your recent statements). In that case I’m not clear on how you think employees are supposed to “hold all management accountable.”

  • “Your typical investor isn’t going to be sitting in on board meetings, at least not at a large company.”

    No kidding. And they aren’t going to sit in on “should Gandolf’s robe be dark grey or light grey in the Lord of the Rings video game” session either. The point here was simply that creative decisions are not going to be subject to democratic vote – but those coming up with the ideas will be held accountable for their performance.

    “Unlike a typical shareholder, who has invested only a small portion of this income in a given company, an employee shareholder will have almost his entire livelihood dependent on how the one company does”

    Understood. That still doesn’t mean that everyone has to have a vote on everything. This is a very simple point I am responding to. It isn’t an absolute requirement for economic democracy or worker ownership. It’s simple. There’s no need to nitpick the point. Either you agree or don’t. Either people have to be able to vote on everything for there to be democracy, or they don’t.

    Now, onto the other points…

    “which is going to make him less willing to abide high risk/high return strategies”

    Isn’t this assuming that the employee isn’t also earning a salary – like every executive is today? What is the difference between the executive with extensive stock options, whose “entire livelihood” is tied up with the company he works for, and the worker’s who stake is probably smaller? Wouldn’t it be less of a dependency on share value and more of a willingness to risk?

    On the other hand what makes a CEO and a well invested board of directors want to take major gambles with everything they have? Why is there a difference?

    “In addition, if an employee’s shares are going to be diluted whenever a new employee is hired, that is going to make employee shareholders less willing to expand, as doing so could lessen the value of their own shares even if it makes the company as a whole more successful.”

    It could do that, yes. Presumably, everyone will understand that possibility when they sign up. But even if the value of their shares decline, they would still be earning more than their counterparts in the industry who don’t own anything. Moreover, I see no reason to assume that this is a likely thing to happen. As the National Center for Employee Ownership reports,

    “Just as important, however, are potential productivity gains. Studies consistently show that when broad employee ownership is combined with a highly participative management style, companies perform much better than they otherwise would be expected to do. Neither ownership nor participation accomplishes these significant gains on its own. Companies want employees to “think and act like owners.” What better way to do that than to make them owners?”

    They do much better – meaning, as they company performs better, bringing on new workers will only make it better, and not necessarily cause a dividing up of the shares to result in a loss of income to the shareholders.

    As for the final paragraph….

    While I don’t think it needs to be a contract for life, I do think there has to be a contract of some kind, yes – for the reason you state.

    But the contract also includes voting rights, and I have absolutely no idea what “statements” you are talking about that suggest I don’t think employee shareholders should have voting rights. I do think they should have voting rights, I just don’t think they need to have a vote over everything.

    Let me try, try, to put it more clearly: some decisions depend upon objective knowledge, experience, skill, things that cannot be decided democratically. Those are the sort of things Darwin was referring to, companies that rely on the creativity of a small team to make big profits. I don’t think that creative process itself requires democratic oversight. But I do think that if it is manifest that the ideas aren’t selling, the workers can vote them out, like investors do with any poorly-performing executive officer.

  • Joe,
    CEOs, entrepeneurs, and creative talent gamble on risky, potentially high reward strategies because the payoff for success is so much bigger, and because they don’t usually risk everything – their chances of rebounding from a loss are higher. Investors who choose such companies also have a higher appetite for risk than your average company man.

    And Blackadder’s point about workers being hesitent to dilute their share of the profits by allowing more employees rings true to me – look at how unionized industries (services in Italy, for example) and professional occupations (doctors, teachers) both tend to resist allowing more workers (through deregulation and licensing reform).

    That said, I find your idea for transitioning from venture capital to employee ownership as an industry matures an interesting one – perhaps through a pre-established dividend amount/share buyback (e.g. 3 times the investment, adjusted for inflation?).

  • Sometimes its true about the unwillingness to dilute shares, but the situations you’re talking about aren’t the same ones I’m talking about. I think that if it is clear that adding more workers is going to make the company more successful, worker-owners are going to have better reasons to bring on more worker-owners than union workers or professional associations are.

    A wage worker’s wages, even in a union, are determined more by supply and demand on the labor market than the profitability of the firm they work for. With worker-owners it is the other way around.

    As for the transition, yes, something along those lines.