12 Responses to John Mackey on Capitalism and Running a Business

  • I think the problem here is in the word “value” which is inherently subjective. Notice that MacKay never uses it. The noble purpose he aspires to is much more objective: healthy food, socially responsible trade, biodiversity, etc.

    I am sure walmart sells many good that people “value” but do they aspire to a noble purpose in the selling of those goods? They might say so because they are offering rock bottom prices which do help the family budget. But is there a trade-off?

  • Other than the fact that they have become China-Mart, Wal-Mart is a very helpful company. They are very, very beneficial to the poor. They hire people with low skills and also sell necessary goods at prices the poor can afford. Is that their mission? I don’t know. Does it really matter? In the temporal sense, no – they provide the benefit anyway, wether for virtue or greed.

    The problem with modern American quasi-corpratist capitalism is that it is not truly free-market capitalism, which is the only naturally occuring economic system. Management is usually made up of bean-counters who have no closeness to the business’ purpose just the bottom-line and shareholders are more often investment companies that have the same bottom-line orientation. If individuals own shares they are often treating the market of stocks as a gambler’s paradise rather than a place where one can easily transfer titles of ownership in a business they care about.

    Along with the easy money and manipulation of the Fed with its control of the banks and the money supply we do not have a free economic system that truly rewards entrepreneurs with a vision. We need to get back to that. Will the market always reward people with vision? No and it shouldn’t.

    The market, free from government intervention, is ultimately responsible to the end consumer. Consumer’s appetites dictate who succeeds and who fails. If people are thrifty, financially literate and moral the market will reward business that meets those standards. Unfortunately, those examples are dwindling in the modern controlled American and global economy.

    I never really liked Mackey’s stores becuase they are full of crunchy, granola eating people and tend to epitomize the neo-hippie trends; however, in light of his philosophy I think I may frequent the stores more, although they are quite expensive.

    Odd how the same people shop at Whole Foods and Starbucks, yet one company is pro-free market and truly responsible, the other is anti-capitalist, hypocritical and full of self-absorbed and condesending green (watermellon) ‘charity’.

  • AK,

    “The problem with modern American quasi-corpratist capitalism is that it is not truly free-market capitalism, which is the only naturally occuring economic system.”

    Markets evolved over time. The first societies were in fact communal. I’m not saying that this means we must be communal, but that different stages of technological development give rise to different economic systems. For most of human history the vast majority of the people did not participate in markets at all. They produced what they needed to live. For most of civilized history participation in markets was secondary to production for immediate consumption. Only in the last 400 years or so has production specifically for exchange become the predominant economic system.

    “If people are thrifty, financially literate and moral the market will reward business that meets those standards.”

    The problem with this is that it is almost as utopian as socialism. Any system can work if people are moral; the problem is that many people choose not to be, and ruin any system that they participate in.

    The Church has always recognized the right and duty of the state and the people to regulate the economy to serve the common good. The state is not perfectible, and markets are not perfectible, because man as such is not perfectible; as the teaching of the Church makes clear, however, ALL of these institutions are required to serve the common good.

    That means that leftists are wrong to categorically dismiss the market and rail against it as inherently immoral; and it also means that rightists are wrong when they categorically reject a meaningful role for the state and the public sector in meeting people’s needs. History has indeed shown that both are necessary, and that one without the other has the potential to lead to great injustice and civil disorder.

  • JH,

    “Markets evolved over time. The first societies were in fact communal. I’m not saying that this means we must be communal, but that different stages of technological development give rise to different economic systems.”

    Joe, I agree with your assessment, we were originally communal because we were in survival mode. I was referring to civilization. Men living in civilized society and not in communal tribes. In stating that free-market capitalism is the only NATURAL economic system I am making a statement of what freely acting men will do: engage in mutually beneficial voluntary exchange. The only technology needed for that is money, a medium of exchange. Even if production is nothing more than growing crops or raising cattle and even if the medium of exchange is trading crops for cattle. That is the essence of free market capitalism. Without interference of any sort, that is what rational humans will do.

    “For most of human history the vast majority of the people did not participate in markets at all. They produced what they needed to live. For most of civilized history participation in markets was secondary to production for immediate consumption. Only in the last 400 years or so has production specifically for exchange become the predominant economic system.”

    People did exchange in markets. The market has been the center of the city and the principle reason for travel for all of human history. In the last several hundred years we have simply applied better transportation, advanced productive capacity and more fluid money. The basic exchanges are still the same. Crops for cattle or gold for ploughs or dollars for computers – it is all basically the same.

    “The problem with this is that it is almost as utopian as socialism. Any system can work if people are moral; the problem is that many people choose not to be, and ruin any system that they participate in.”

    Not really, by moral I was referring to the aggregate and not necessarily the individual actors. If the principles, traditions and customs of a society are basically moral then the institutions will be basically moral despite the large quantity of sinners and the smaller quantity of deliberate sinners. In any event, a free market liberates human creativity and innovation and allows methods and means for checking and punishing the immoral actors. All government methods for checking bad behavior developed in a free market first, meaning the creativity of some individual devised the method which is used by government. Governments are inherently administrative and not creative.

    “The Church has always recognized the right and duty of the state and the people to regulate the economy to serve the common good. The state is not perfectible, and markets are not perfectible, because man as such is not perfectible; as the teaching of the Church makes clear, however, ALL of these institutions are required to serve the common good.”

    I hope I did not give the impression that I am against this sentiment. When individuals actors who assign certain duties to government and leave most to the natural market the most social benefit is realized. None are perfectible, only utopians believe that, yet we are to seek something MORE PERFECT. We are to journey as individuals and in the aggregate toward perfection knowing it is like the horizon. We can see it, we can move toward it, but we will never reach it.

    “That means that leftists are wrong to categorically dismiss the market and rail against it as inherently immoral; and it also means that rightists are wrong when they categorically reject a meaningful role for the state and the public sector in meeting people’s needs.

    Those are difficult words. What is a leftist? What is a rightist? As I understand it we have assigned the LEFT to those who advocate for absolutism and the RIGHT to those who advocate anarchy. If that is correct, then you are correct, neither option works with fallen man. I don’t subscribe to either idea, no rational person can. As with everything save for Love of Christ, balance is what is required.

    “History has indeed shown that both are necessary, and that one without the other has the potential to lead to great injustice and civil disorder.”

    I don’t think we are disputing if both are necessary, I think we are disputing the point of balance. In fact it isn’t a duality, it is inherently trinitarian.

    We need to devise an order that assigns proper roles and the balanced amount of power to three spheres:

    Church
    State
    Free Man (the market)

    Church first because the moral order belongs to the moral authority. For us that would be The Church, for others, well, they’re confused. Nevertheless, there are some basic commonalities that are true no matter what ‘denomination’ one may belong too, even pagans, atheists and followers of false religions. The historic commonality is Christian morality. Heretical Christians, non-Christians and Catholic Christians all benefit from Christian morality as taught by Mother Church. This country was founded on these principles, despite the fact that the Protestants refused to attribute the teachings to the Catholic Church.

    I think it was Patrick Henry who stated, “It cannot be emphasized too clearly and too often that this nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religion but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

    State is second in the sense that men in the aggregate have given consent and certain duties from their own sovereignty to government. Limited duties, with a specific and narrow scope. Primarily to protect LIFE, LIBERTY, PROPERTY and FREEDOM OF WORSHIP. If government is limited to the protection of the aforementioned, not the regulation, not the promotion, not the management but simply PROTECTING, then that government is legitimate, licit and as moral as humanly possible. Prosecuting murder, especially of the pre-born and waging just war are designed to protect life. Liberty and property are protected by ensuring that the market is not coerced by anyone. Freedom of religion is obvious.

    If government is limited to those activities and respects subsidiarity (federalism) then men are free to act within the confines of good, informed conscience. Those who do not, face punishment by both the market and the government.

    All three orders are necessary, integrated and need to be balanced and coordinated appropriately. That will never happen, but it is not for us to make it happen. Our duty is to seek the more perfect integration, coordination and balance of Church, State and Free Man. The efficacy is the work of God.

  • AK,

    I agree with a lot of what you say, but I reject the strict limitations you think ought to be imposed on government.

    When I talk about not rejecting the state or markets, I am talking about the economy as well as everything else. Let me be more clear: the Church has not only supported, but insisted on, state intervention in the market when it becomes apparent that the latter cannot meet the needs of people, provide them with that which is their right as human beings with with dignity, to preserve social order, etc.

    In a modern technologically advanced society, what we cannot have is unaccountable, concentrated economic power, whether it is an outcome of markets or government decrees.

  • Joe,

    I think we agree on most things and I know we agree in the macro-cosmic sense. I think we are finding babelized disagreement in the micro-comsic sense.

    The reason for strict limitiations on the government is NOT becuase government is BAD. Authority is a good. Governmnet must be restricted because it is SANCTIONED FORCE. That is a devasting power. Used morally it is a benefit; however, if that power is used immorally, even for ‘good’ intentions, it is calamity. Governments, all kinds, are run by sinful, fallen humans. Without restraint the monopoly of power will typically attract the greedy, ambitious and worse. That means the sanctioned force of government can be in the hands of humans cooperating, willfully or negligently, with Satan. Checking government is not an indictment on government, it is an indictment on man.

    Furthermore, the Church is NOT infallible in economic matters. I respect and agree with Church teaching on the moral intent of man’s economic activity. The problem is that what the Church has insisted needs regulation is NOT the market of freely acting humans it is the very intervention of humans acting with force of government. We have to keep in mind that our sins are ever present wheter we are a businessman or a government regulator, neither is infallible and neither is exepmpt from corruption. The difference is the businessman has to operate with numerous other actors some as corrupt as he and others far less so. The government regulator has COERCIVE POWER and there is no check on his corruption becuase the government is a monopoly.

    The only market of government exists internationally and one can argue that in the last hundred years or so, we have established a global government monopoly apparatus so government monopoly has no competition. That is the problem.

    All that power concentrated in a few hands WILL invariably lead to that power being in the hands of corrput and evil men. Even a good king cannot be sure that his offspring will have a good rule. Usually for monarchs and inheritors of wealth, by the third generation it is all squandered.

    Limiting and checking the power of government is what keeps evil men in check and allows the vurtuous to benefit the most in need.

    Markets cannot create conentrated power. Only FORCE can do that. Governments role is to keep force OUT of the market so that the power is always with the lowest commong denomentator: The end user, the consumer.

  • I believe we could have a clearer discussion of the problems were we to give up believing that the U.S. of A. is basically a moral country. I have, for example, just finished reading George Archibald’s JOURNALISM IS WAR. He recounts his various investigations into the vile shenanigans in the cesspool of Washington in the past two decades.

    It is distressing to realize that all our suspicions of politicians and union leaders and CEOs and the Catholic clergy are not without foundation. We are forever hoping that somehow our politicians will not infected by the poisonous miasma that is Washington [sad that George’s glorious name should stand for base corruption].

    Two classic examples were the town hall meetings in which one Representative said that he would listen only to people from his district and was told that the participants were people from his district.
    In another the Representative proclaimed that it was his town hall meeting and he would set the rules.

    The sadness arises from the fact that these people have been blinded by the Washington miasma. They come from relatively simple backgrounds. They have not discovered the vaccine against the halls of power.

  • Gabriel,

    “I believe we could have a clearer discussion of the problems were we to give up believing that the U.S. of A. is basically a moral country.”

    Words are tricky things. They are inadequate for communicating, but the best we have available.

    The US of A IS a moral country in the sense that the principles she was founded upon are moral. She is also moral in the sense that within the context of her history, with all her blemishes and horrors, she is the most consistently moral country.

    The bulk of her people seek virtue, imperfectly, and in comparison to the peoples of Christendom, with less efficacy. Perhaps we are struggling for virtue in a world with Satan on the loose.

    Our culture is certainly NOT moral and we do have to take responsibility for that but loss of our culture does not make all of us immoral. Was anyone moral in Sodom and Gomorrah? Moral people, or at least people seeking to be moral, may be immersed in a culture that is immoral. Jesus dined with sinners and publicans. Perhaps we are here to reclaim the USA for her King.

    Our political class is overwhelmingly immoral. Thieves, usurers, liars, perverts openly displaying their homosexual proclivities, adulterers, megalomaniacs, etc. are in more abundance than moral men. This is the reason government is supposed to be BOUND with the chains of the Constitution.

    Our biggest problem is our institutional desire to evict God from public intercourse and governance. We CANNOT remain moral if we demand that he leave us alone. Without Him we are certainly immoral. The work of the enemy seems to be succeeding becuase we keep diminishing God’s role in our public lives, but this need not be so. The first amendment secures our given right to worship the God of Christ freely. We need to make a courageous, respectful and civil PROTEST against the removal of God from our public lives and our governments.

    For the LORD did not give us a Spirit of timidity.

    We need to stop being timid, cowed by political correctness and deference for the sensibilities of men. We need to walk boldly into the fire proclaiming our King. Otherwise we are just spectators to the demise of a once great nation. Silence is consent.

    Pray the Rosary with your brothers and sisters on the corner of your street, in front of the city hall, in the centers of commerce. Proclaim the King and see how many moral people will join you. Then tell us if this is still a moral country. I think she is. I beleive she is. I hope she is. The USA is consecrated to our Blessed Mother. Respect your mother and ask her for the graces to set this moral country back on the path to Heaven and away from the abyss.

    I’ll join you.

  • American Knight:
    What you write seems to me to be wish-filled thinking. Our culture, thus our country, is not moral. It has no defenses against immoral positions. For example, it may well be that a majority of Americans do not hold with abortion “except except except…”.
    Abortion is not illegal in this country.
    It appears that many [most?] couplings are not done with the marriage lines. [What society has ever survived without a clear understanding of marriage and the family?].
    What of the next stage the education of children? The school system is hostage to unions which protect mediocrity in its members and in students.
    Consider the history of the country. It took a while to slaughter enough Indians that they became no longer a problem, except that they are forced to live in reservations where education is abominable and drunkenness rife.
    Need I dwell on slavery which continued to the 1960s?
    The War on Poverty seems to have impoverished many more. Roe v. Wade was quite clearly an effort to decrease unwanted populations.
    And so on and so on and so on.

    The much praised liberty has become a liberty to do whatever you could get away with. And to avoid as much responsibility as possible – personal and public. And to call in the lawyers to protect yourself, teste the ACORN business.

    We are not on this earth to build America as the City on the Hill.

  • Gabriel,

    What you may perceive as wish-filled thinking is Hope.

    I know our culture is immoral, but as I stated in my previous post that doesn’t make the country immoral. In principle the United States of America is founded on Christian morality by sinners.

    To assume that it is an immoral country is to concede the fight. We live in an immoral country we have institutionalized evil so we are all going to Hell. I reject that.

    We live in a moral country and most of us do it immorally and we have insitutionalized evil so those of us with eyes to see and ears to hear MUST be good Christian witnesses, fight for the re-establishment of our moral principles and re-consecrate our country and our selves to the Blessed Virgin and through her immaculate hands and heart to her Son, our Lord.

    I think we are here precisely to build America as the City on a Hill and our own state, town, home and body too!

    The efficacy of that work is not for us to decide, but it is our duty to do the work with that end in mind.

    “Thy Kingdom come” That means into our hearts, but it also means into our familiies, our towns, our country and the world.

  • American Knight writes Friday, October 9, 2009 A.D.
    “I think we are here precisely to build America as the City on a Hill and our own state, town, home and body too!
    “The efficacy of that work is not for us to decide, but it is our duty to do the work with that end in mind.

    “Thy Kingdom come” That means into our hearts, but it also means into our families, our towns, our country and the world”.

    My attempt is to point out that being American is no guarantee of goodness. We have relaxed too much into the comfort of the wealth of natural resources and take it as a right.

    The Founders were political creatures [and mostly ignorantly anti-Catholic]. They had fallen for the “Enlightened” nonsense of automatic progress, a word interpreted as improvement. Yet they were not shocked by being slavers.

    You must put together for me a list of accomplishments of the U.S.A. to balance the various horrors committed in the name of Liberty and Manifest Destiny.

  • Gabriel,

    I totally agree: Being American is no guarantee of goodness. Neither is being ‘Catholic’. Far too often we Catholics are tempted (God knows I fall for it often) to lean toward conceit when it comes to our faith. I am not condemning you, I am just using a handy exapmple. You stated, “The Founders were political creatures [and mostly ignorantly anti-Catholic]. They had fallen for the “Enlightened” nonsense of automatic progress, a word interpreted as improvement. Yet they were not shocked by being slavers.”

    Your statement is correct; however, Catholics have also owned slaves and advocated for slavery. Many Catholics were involved in racist and biggotted practices as recent as the last century. So we cannot cast stones at our poor misguided Protestant brethren simply because our Church, is The one established by Christ and only we have Apostolic succession. This is true for the Church, it is not necessarily true for each Catholic.

    I suspect this is the same for Protestants, in fact it may be more excuseable for them becuase they do NOT have infallible teaching, just the pale shadows left over from when their heretical founders were Catholic.

    Since the Church is perfect and we know that Catholics are not can you draw the conclusion that the Church is imperfect or that Catholics are perfect? Of course not, The Church is the Church and we are sinners. The same analogy can be applied to our country, although less ‘perfectly’. America is good and moral, Americans may or may not be. Until all of our mores, institutions, conventions, customs, etc. are corrupted (sadly that may not be far off) then we have something good to hold on to and revert to, while correcting the mistakes of the past, which include slavery and something much worse – abortion.

    The accomplishments of the USA that balance horrors do not exist. America is not a church and she has no spiritual soul, just a spirit of principle. Theie is no balance. The slaughter of Christians at Nagasaki with atomic weapons is unexcuseable we need to transcend it, not excuse it. Nevertheless, America has done more good for the world than harm, in her time but that doesn’t mean a balance has been achieved. Keep in mind she’s a country not a person. Most of our errors are propogated by evil forces and evil men working with them. We have a struggle ahead and the outcome will determine the fate of billions. In any event, this is not the thread to truly debate this issue.

    Suffice it to say that Mackey highlights his ‘conversion’ from nice sounding anti-capitalist platitudes to the honesty of the fact that free-markets allow the morally inclined to thrive and provide for their customers, their employees and themselves for the benefit of all. In fact a free-market even allows one to glorify God in their free market activity if they so choose. Thank God for that becuase without these wealthy Catholics who thrive in the free market, we’d have even less parishes than we do. I heard that one good man underwrote the public prayer of the Holy Rosary in Kansas City for almost 200,000 of the faithful. It required a $200,000+ check – thank God for free-markets!

7 Responses to Ross Douthat on "a different kind of liberal"

  • An excellent column, well-researched and clearly, simply written. As I read the comments attached to it, always an exercise in frustration-building, it occurred to me that the clear cognitive dissonance that Douthat points to in positions on abortion–popular among many on the Left and even among social moderates–is something that they have learned to tune out completely in order to maintain their sanity. One of the commenters there, trotting out the oft-used logical fallacy “I find abortion abhorrent personally, but who am I to impose my views on others?”, upbraids Douthat for being “judgmental” and chiding him that only the Almighty God of judgment can judge us. Situational ethics at its worst and most illogical. No doubt those same people who wail and gnash their teeth over Douthat’s clear line of reasoning would have no trouble (nor should they, of course!) recognizing their hypocrisy if the issue at hand were slavery, as it was 150 years ago in this country.

    We have much work to do as pro-life Catholics, but the more I read the pablum that spews forth from the lips of the unthinking pro-choice crowd, the more I realize that nothing I say or do could change their minds; it is up to the grace of the Holy Spirit to change their hearts, and for that all I can do is pray.

  • It’s a perfectly fine column, but just says what we already knew about the late Mrs. Shriver and the late Senator Kennedy. And the comments tell us what we already knew about the few remaining pathetic readers of the NYT.

  • This was an excellent editorial. I am glad it is posted here.

  • Ross Douthat is the smartest young conservative writer out there, aside from Labash. Always worth a look.

  • Maybe. But something about Douthat rubs me the wrong way. Nevertheless, it’s a good piece.

    Mind you, he’s not saying anything that countless other Catholic commentators weren’t already saying. But I suppose it’s new to the readers of The New York Times, so Douthat has doubtless done a service by putting something they’d never otherwise read out there for them to see.

  • I’m with Jay – though I liked and linked to this particular article and think that Douthat puts out some nice work, I’m not fully on board with his program. I thought Party of Sam’s Club, on top of some policy disagreements, was a major disappointment. It just wasn’t a very good or really enlightening read. But he’s on the money here.

  • Of all the Kennedy siblings, perhaps Eunice was the one who really SHOULD have been the first Catholic president 😉

16 Responses to Was Kennedy "More Right Than Wrong"?

  • Actually Kennedy was more Left than either Right or Catholic, and that was his whole problem.

  • Outstanding post, Darwin!

    Kennedy is being lauded by the Catholic left for being a far-left Democrat, but they’re trying to dress it up as something more (witness Sr. Fiedler’s “he made me proud to be Catholic”). That’s the sum total of the lionizing the so-called “Lion of the Senate” is receiving by “progressive” Catholics.

  • Abortion, and the outrageous judicial power grab that forced it from the democratic process, is the most important issue in the public sphere.

    Here, Sen. Kennedy was a grave failure – both in his lamentable treatment of Judge Bork and in the many lamentable votes he cast related to the issues of life, abortion first among them.

    Just as his detractors should respect his passing and leave the scoring of “political points” for another time, so too should partisans like Winters and various bloggers refrain from elevating Kennedy as a great “Catholic example.”

    On the biggest issue of our time, he was gravely in the wrong.

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  • To dismiss his career because of his stance on abortion is to be ignorant of the complicated way the issue of abortion manifested itself in the early 1970s: I think Kennedy got it wrong but I do not find it difficult to understand why and how he got it wrong. If the pro-life leaders would stop ranting for a second and study that history they might become more effective at advancing their cause.

    I find this paragraph fascinating. Mr. Winters apparently believes that all he has to do is assert that something is ‘complicated,’ and that ‘only ignorance’ could account for the criticism Mr. Kennedy received, and voila, it’s washed away. Moreover, if pro-lifers – you know, Catholics who agree with the Church – would stop ‘ranting,’ they would be able to more effectively advance their cause (despite the Herculean efforts of politicians like Mr. Kennedy to prevent such advancement, it is supposed).

    The fact of the matter, of course, is that Mr. Kennedy fought tooth and nail against the protection of unborn life. It was a deliberate political decision that was both tragic and reflected a near-complete rejection of the Catholic conception of the human person and the common good. His accomplishments in other areas should be given their due, but his faults were very real. Let’s not ignore either, particularly with patronizing nonsense about how ‘complicated’ abortion was in the 1970’s (through the late oughts?), or how voting along party lines was somehow a deep reflection of Catholic conviction. I should add that my intention here is to criticize Mr. Winters, rather than Mr. Kennedy. It is telling that Mr. Winters, while stating that he thinks Mr. Kennedy was wrong about abortion, shows far more sympathy to Mr. Kennedy than to either his “fellow” pro-lifers or the persons for which they seek legal protection.

  • It perplexes me that so much attention and credibility to given to a writer at AMERICA [THE Catholic weekly, except THE Catholic weekly is the Nat Cath Rep, except that Commonweal is THE Catholic weekly …].

    That journal [and the others] are quietly but vociferously declining. They are as like as peas in a pod. They have nothing interesting to say. Be kind; let them expire.

  • “I am an American and a Catholic; I love my country and treasure my faith,” Kennedy said. “But I do not assume that my conception of patriotism or policy is invariably correct, or that my convictions about religion should command any greater respect than any other faith in this pluralistic society. I believe there surely is such a thing as truth, but who among us can claim a monopoly on it?”

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32595251/ns/politics-edward_kennedy_19322009/

    Vile, pure and simple.

    What can be more wrong than facilitating and, thereby, enabling the deaths of what will amount to be so many millions of children?

    “Cruel & Unusual Punishment” has nothing on deliberate dissection of your very person while still alive in your mother’s womb!

    If only Catholics would stop trivializing abortion (and, more importantly, stop abortion altogether) as if it were some casual thing to be selected on some diner menu, then perhaps they would start acting and, even more, start being “Catholic”!

  • “I think we can be assured that such a deviation from liberal orthodoxoy would be considered far less “incidental” by Catholic progressives than his deviation from Church teaching on abortion.”

    Sadly, I believe this observation is 100% accurate.

  • A friend of mine remarked in an email that even those Catholics who didn’t have much respect for Kennedy attempted to deal initially with his death with sympathy. That it was the over the top attempt by some on the left to virtually canonize the reprobate that basically called for voices to be raised in service of truth.

    If I read something like that a couple days ago, I would have rejected the idea that we should take the bait and speak up. Not today. The attempts by the leftist ideologues to write a hagiography on Kennedy has only served to make us recall and shine a light on his true character and deeds. Let’s pray for him because if he’s going to experience the Beatific Vision it’s not going to be because of his defining deeds but in spite of them.

  • Rick,

    I have to agree. One would like to let time pass to assess the man. But at the same time, if that time is used to distort the record, then the demands of truth AND charity require speaking up.

  • Rick, you took the words right out of my mouth.

    Because Ted Kennedy’s life and legislative legacy have been so overrated and puffed up by the mainstream media and liberals, some on the other side can’t resist the temptation to go equally overboard in trashing him. I have in mind those bloggers (not here, of course) who were absolutely vicious about his cancer diagnosis and saying he deserved to suffer as much as possible, or those right now who are openly saying he is or should be burning in hell and expressing glee at the prospect.

    Gifted speaker, yes. Skilled politician, sure.
    Champion of the poor and downtrodden (provided they made it out of the womb intact), maybe.
    Lion of the Senate on a par with, say, Daniel Webster or Henry Clay — I don’t think so.
    Exemplary Catholic politician — excuse me while I go get a barf bag.

  • Has anyone read Fr. Thomas J. Euteneuer column? Check it out here

  • The fact of the matter, of course, is that Mr. Kennedy fought tooth and nail against the protection of unborn life. It was a deliberate political decision that was both tragic and reflected a near-complete rejection of the Catholic conception of the human person and the common good.

    John Henry’s point is very important in understanding Kennedy’s legacy to Catholics in America. In rejecting the human-dignity principle, Kennedy kicked the base from under the many authentic human-rights causes he espoused–and thereby rendered almost all of them suspect in the minds of Catholics loyal to the magisterium. Some of these Catholics today reject not only Kennedy’s party but every plank in its platform–sometimes just because it is in that platform. Those who remain Democrats tend to cite their support for an assortment of “progressive” causes as evidence of their faith, even as their opposition to basic tenets of Catholic teaching–and to the authorities who periodically remind them of those tenets–grows ever more strident.

    There is no way to throw holy water on the ugly divide in American Catholicism that Senator Kennedy’s cynical choices may not have caused but certain helped to entrench. Everyone who posts here today but used to post on Vox Nova surely understands and regrets it.

  • I believe there surely is such a thing as truth, but who among us can claim a monopoly on it

    What garbage. If you cannot know the truth, what good is it?

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6 Responses to Catholic View of the Political Community (Part 5)

  • “Careers and reputations are often deemed more important than what the natural law and common good would demand (witness the Supreme Court).”

    Good post. THough I perhaps differ with some specifics you put it. I am a NAFTA supporter(it might need to be tweeked) but I think it is on the right path. I am not sure being pro NAFTA is anti Catholic but perhaps I am reading too much into your comments.

    I am curious if you would elaborate on your Supreme Court Comment. IS there a “Catholic” way to look at Const law? If so if this goes beyond the intent of the founders is it correct that the Court take power that is not delegated to them to enforce a common good? I think Archbishop Chaput would disagee looking at recent comments. I am not saying that natural law cannot be a jurisrudence for the Const. But again the court operates in the realm in the power that is given them.

    Again I am curious about that comment

  • Actually, Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus in his book “Civilization of Love” seems to hold a somewhat similar position, jh, in regard to NAFTA.

  • “Actually, Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus in his book “Civilization of Love” seems to hold a somewhat similar position, jh, in regard to NAFTA.”

    What postion is that? Again just curious. I think NAFTA needs to be tweeked as I said but it get tiresome for me to deal with Catholics on the Far Right( the horrible NAFTA Highway conspiracy) and other conspiracy theories and those on the left with their protectionist theories.

    I am saying when we are dealing with something as complicated as the NAFTA agreement there is not one “Catholic” position.

    I very much like the above post but while it speaks of looking to the Catholic commom good it seems to imply that there is a common Catholic true response to the Federal Reserve to Iraq to Nafta.

    I think that cuts off discussion and sort of lets say undermines the true intent of his post.

  • Anderson supports NAFTA but thinks reforms are necessary. I read the book when it first came out. I would have to check.

    On the other matter, I think a distinction needs to be made. And I hope my clarifications are there. I think there is such a thing as a ‘true’ Catholic response — objectively speaking. I do not believe that all moral judgments to a given situation are equal, that would be relativism. While reasonable minds may disagree on matters of prudential judgment (and none of us are barred from receiving communion as with advocating direct intrinsic evils), the fact that we can disagree often leads in my mind to a sort of relativism where our positions on other matter are almost entirely left to our discretion. I’m not saying this is anyone’s conscious thinking, but discussion of it almost seems to suggest that.

    I think there is a ‘true’ Catholic position to the war in Iraq. I’m not prepared to say what it is. The Church does not declare definitively on it for a number of reasons, but the moral principles given to us should allow us to reach a conclusion. Who is right and who is wrong at the end of the day, we will know when we die. But this does not mean that good intentions and one’s reasons simply because one thinks them derived from church teaching and principle make them a Catholic position or a “Catholic response.” I think the true Catholic response is the one *most* in accord with objective moral norms and I cannot think that even with the diversity of Catholic positions we take, all of them are ‘true’ Catholic responses. They cannot be. Again, that would be relativism.

    Because of the lack of unbiased facts, presentation, and many factors prevent the Church from definitively saying what the Catholic position is on matters where the morality is not so obvious. As it so happens, our church leadership is just as ready to divide on what is and what is not the Catholic position on some matter. And even moreso, it is not a prudent idea pastorally to tell everyone what to think on every issue and not allow some intellectual freedom as well as attempt, in the form of trial and error, to develop in moral virtue.

    In that sense, no, there is no ‘true’ Catholic response dogmatically put forward for us to readily advocate. We have to come to the best judgment we can make that we deem best in accordance with church teaching and dialogue about it and present our case the best we can. For me, in many circumstances, it tends to be a Democratic position. It seems obvious to me in a lot of cases this best reflects the teachings of the Church. This is not the case with other Catholics. While open to being wrong (and I have adapted my opinion on a number of issues because of dialogue), I think my view is profoundly Catholic and the ‘obvious’ Catholic position until I see credible reason to think otherwise.

    I’m not accusing you of thinking a certain way. I’m just commenting in general that I think that the phrase “matters of prudential judgment” which refers to non-intrinsic evils leads to some sort of relativism among Catholics where since the Church has no “official” position, we can adapt almost any view as long as we can give it a Catholic spin — or at least this is my perception of it. Whereas, I think while there is no “official” position because it is humanly impossible to verify because of the question of the source of facts, dispute about circumstances, et al, thus all are left to prudentially come to a conclusion — which in my view means that we are all seeking the Catholic position, though, we cannot precisely say what it is — and whatever position any number of Catholic positions taken are “Catholic approaches” insofar as they are based on Church teaching, but I don’t think all views necessarily take everything into account at the proportionate level they are meant to be.

    It’s just one of the things that bother me when people talk about “non-negotiables” and matters of “prudential judgment.” I hope I articulated it well enough.

  • My own personal take on the application of general principle and worldview as presented by the more-or-less complete Catholic social doctrine- is that NAFTA-economics is flawed, not in that there is a trade agreement between nations, but that economics must involve true freedom which is not merely contractual, but moral, representative of true human freedom which is connected to the ends of Man (of all mankind)- which is the proper return to God. Economics is about more than mere cumulative desires/supply-demand- but how are all the people in the chain of economic transactions affected- be it the producers/workers, the sellers, the consumers. A good critique of this kind of critique is found in William Cavanaugh’s book – Being Consumed- and it is supported by what I have read over the years in official Catholic teachings- right up to the current encyclical.

    So- if NAFTA-economics can be generalized to say that it does not include provisions that look after the welfare of workers/farmers/small communities with the rights of subsidiarity, and the environmental health – then it is a flawed approach to trade and relations between nations. The fact that Mexico was quickly abandoned as a source of cheap human labor when China opened wide- to provide huge access to cheap and hardly “free” laborers- exposed the false myth promised by NAFTA- and we see how the Mexican people feel about NAFTA as they have voted with their feet in fleeing their country for America.

    As for the Supreme Court- I resoect Archbishop Chaput very much and haven’t read his take on how we should expect our Highest Court to involve natural law reasoning and common good outcomes into their daily work- but it seems to me from reading the social doctrine that there can be no mere positive law theory of interpretation that can replace the demands of justice inscribed in the natural laws given us by God and accessible to all, but there is a big help given us by the Church- I would recommend Prof. Rice’;s book on the Natural Law, as a good application of what the Church teaches. I would compare strict contructionist interpretation theory to a Fundamentalist reading of Scripture- not a perfect analogy of course given the uniqueness of Scripture and Catholic Magisterial guidance

  • I don’t think there can be, or ought to be, a defined “Catholic” position on EVERY single political or economic issue, for the simple reason that the Catholic Church, by definition, crosses economic and political boundaries — it’s universal; that’s what the name means! The kind of political or economic or military policies that “work” for one nation, or at one particular time in history, aren’t necessarily going to work in another nation, another culture, or at another time. So there has to be some flexibility.

    What the Catholic (Universal) Church does is set forth universal principles –protection of innocent human life, of the poor and vulnerable, of the family as the basic unit of society, and of human dignity (including religious freedom). How these basic principles are best applied at a given time and place and in a given situation is what lay people are called to figure out, and to do.

    Although the “non negotiable” issues with absolutely no room for compromise like abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage get most of the attention, it seems to me that the vast majority of economic and political issues are matters of prudence about which faithful Catholics are free to disagree, and to change their minds — and this is as it should be.

7 Responses to Changing the World

  • Excellent! I think Benedict has been developing the theme of the priority of the spiritual in his three encyclicals. This is not to deny the need for social action. Merely that spiritual rootedness must preceed any action.

  • Indeed.

    And regardless of the topic of one’s blogging, if one allows it to take a place in one’s life disproportionate to any other hobby, it’s probably a good idea to cut down. Real life beckons.

  • A welcome reminder to the Catholic blogosphere….

  • As I have stated many times over the years, I blog solely for amusement. If any good comes of it well and good, but if it ever ceases to be fun I will stop doing it. Having just put in 12 hours at the office and in court, how I wish I could do the same thing regarding the law!

  • Mr. McClarey,

    As “Amuse thyself” is your self-confessed guiding motto of all of your blogging activities, I must apologize for all of my complaints that assumed that truth and Christian charity were your guiding lights.

    Now I understand you better, I think.

  • Wrong as usual Mr. DeFrancisis, but feel free to try again.

  • I am new to this blog and welcome the possibility of constructive dialog regarding important issues that face our society and help us to continually form our souls so as to be pleasing in the eyes of our heavenly Father who loves all of us and only desires the best for us. I promise that I will always do my best to adhere to “The Code of Conduct” rules and I ask all of you to please remind or reprimand me if I disrespect any of you, my pride often times gets the better of me. From reading the above replies to the words of Pope Benedict regarding how important prayer is to sustain our faith, and how prayer gives our actions true merit, it is easy to see that we have all been given gifts from God(Our Father)that we can use to assist one another on our journeys of on-going spiritual formation. Your brother in Christ, Scott

51 Responses to Economics and Morality

  • Excellent topic, Darwin.

    I’ve started to sense that while socialism tends towards forms of totalitarianism, libertarianism tends towards apathy and indifference. I tend towards the later political philosophy because it is at least grounded in empirical reality, leaving us free to take up our Christian (and I’d argue, most human) responsibilities.

    I sat through last weekend and read the whole thing… at some point I’d like to do a closer analysis.

  • Libertarianism has always led to totalitarianism, because the losers will not live with the consequences of libertarianism.

    I don’t see a difference between “Economic Moralists” and “Indifferentists” except for a happy speech the former tell themselves. You seem to share the problem of assigning a certitude among the classical economics that does not exist even with the economics community, let alone in relation to something like biology. Among the heaviest objectors to the new encyclical, their economic beliefs would not find themselves wildly mocked except at a half dozen institutions of higher learning in the U.S.

  • Now, it seems to me that much of the sound and the fury surrounding Catholic discussions of economics centers around Structuralists holding Economic-moralists to really be Indifferentists,

    Ahh, how prophetic.

    I don’t see a difference between “Economic Moralists” and “Indifferentists” except for a happy speech the former tell themselves.

  • Economics is a description of human behavior, rather than a description of the physical world. Economics describes human nature but also our interaction with the physical world. In other words, economics is about the allocation of limited resources. One can say that the strength of human nature’s interaction with each other and with those resources is so strong that the behavior is almost as inviolable as the laws of physics. Supply and demand is as unchangable as the law of gravity. Attempts to consciously choose some other system have always failed, in the long run, even in the face of totalitarian attempts to enforce the “new order.” Structuralism is a fantasy world, which believes that “us smart people” can determine how people should behave, will behave, if we just make things go our way instead.

    Having said that, there is a difference between Economic Moralists and Indifferentists, as I understand your concept. (Which concept, I think, holds a lot of insight.) An indifferentist thinks that whatever is happening is okay. At an individual level, however, we have a responsibility to do things based on love. That means that we do not do some things that others may choose to do even though they are sinful. My economic choices must be informed by a Catholic conscience.

    As a business owner, I can tell you that there are some businesses that are driven solely by greed, through the exploitation of their employees, their suppliers and even their customers. I believe that my company can survive and even thrive without dealing with those companies. I could go into more detail of how my conscience affects the economic choices we make, but, I think, you get the idea. Even as an individual, non-managerial employee, there are things that may be in your best economic interest that you can’t do without violating generally accepted standards of morality. (e.g. asking for and taking kickbacks from suppliers.)

    Some of these issues are addressed by the newer areas of economics, in which economists are investigating behavior (as opposed, say, to building econometric models), including seemingly “non-rational” decision making. There are also business management issues here, such as the conditions in which people work together, whether that’s all employees feel that they are part of making the company and themselves successful, or the company and people outside the company, perhaps including other companies, work together toward common goals. Think, for example, of a company where 99 people are working together, doing what needs to be done, but 1 person is stealing, i.e. allocating resources for their individual benefit, rather than that of the whole 100.

    Is that not similar to the question of who in the whole society gets resources? You can look at working as the way in which you serve others. Not too long ago, I heard a rabbi propound that concept. He then went on to suggest that retirement, then, might be seen as immoral (assuming that you were physically and mentally able to still work, in some form), because it meant that you were no longer serving the needs of others.

    The difficulties that many have with the resources allocation question include what resources/how many resources should be given to those who can’t serve the needs of others (i.e. who can’t work productively, such as children and the sick, as opposed to those who choose not to work), who should have to do things to serve those people (i.e. who pays) and what are the channels of transmission between the productive and the non-productive (e.g. church, state, individuals, voluntary organizations.)

  • It seems to me that whenever people hear a moral argument they don’t like, they call it “moralism”.

    What am I, on this list? First of all, I am a skeptic of economic science. I will not reject what is obviously true for the sake of morality – but I will question the extent to which a certain truth necessitates a certain policy, the extent to which it ought to negate the democratic will of the people (i.e. as in Pinochet’s Chile, which was established exactly on the notion that violent force had to be used to ensure the smooth operation of these ‘objective laws’ of the economy).

    From one point of view in political theory, from Aristotle to Marx, class conflict is what drives society forward. Certainly the struggle between classes is as much a “fact” subject to scientific analysis as the effects of minimum wages. It is also a fact that has a set of dynamics that can be drastically altered by economic policy.

    But do the neoliberals ever really take that into account in their “scientific models”? No, because they do not see classes, only individuals and their utilitarian preferences. Then “institutionalism” came along to redress some of these errors. But it never cut to the foundation.

    My problem with economic models is not that they are scientific – it is that they are usually abstract mathematical models that rarely, if ever, rely upon in historical evidence or political factors to shape and form them.

    All but a few truisms such as “people like more money than less money” or “people like lower prices than higher prices” cannot be applied universally to all times and places. Sometimes they can be very powerful truisms – Trotsky the Marxist revolutionary was saying, long before any free-market liberal economist was saying, that cheap goods from the West would be the undoing of the Soviet regime, some 60 years before it happened.

    But what about areas where legitimate economists disagree? What other reason besides moral values and personal preference does one have to accept the claims of the American Enterprise Institute over the Economic Policy Institute? Both can find various correlations between trend A and trend B. Both can point to the others correlations and point to some third factor C that renders it spurrious. And so on and so forth.

    All of that said, these “structuralists” you want to point out are a strawman. No one wants to ignore what is an obvious economic law for the sake of morality. The problem is that it is not always so obvious that what isn’t really happening is one group imposing its subjective will upon another in the name of some law.

    What I ultimately favor, to put it more crudely, is ‘power to the people’ – political, and economic. And if they make the wrong decisions, then they make the wrong decisions. It is better than being forced by a Pinochet to make the allegedly ‘right’ ones (another area where economists are still arguing).

  • MZ,

    I don’t see a difference between “Economic Moralists” and “Indifferentists” except for a happy speech the former tell themselves.

    Well, how about this concrete example. Six months ago I was filling a position on my team, and the best qualified person for the job was a guy desperate to get our of Michigan where the company he was working for was slowly going bankrupt. Knowing his situation, I could easily have hired him for 10-15k/year less than all the other people doing the same job were making, because his region had a much worse labor market and finding a job outside his region was hard. However, I set him up to be paid the same as everyone else because as an Economic-moralist I did not think it would be moral to take advantage of his situation to pay him less than the others. (However, I differ from a Structuralist, in that I would not support enacting laws requiring that all people doing similar work be paid exactly the same — since I think that restriction of the labor market would end up hurting people more than helping them.)

    In opposite example — seven years ago I was working for a guy who was basically an Indifferentist. I was promoted within the company, but given far less than other people doing the same work, and when I objected I was told very bluntly, “We already know you’ll work for X, why should we pay more?” Now luckily, markets are easily self correcting, so I did the logical thing and found another job within three months and quit.

    But I would say that the different between Indifferentists and Economic-moralists is actually pretty big when it comes to actual moral action.

    You seem to share the problem of assigning a certitude among the classical economics that does not exist even with the economics community, let alone in relation to something like biology. Among the heaviest objectors to the new encyclical, their economic beliefs would not find themselves wildly mocked except at a half dozen institutions of higher learning in the U.S.

    I’m not clear what exactly you’re taking to be the “classical economics” that I’m accused of being too certain on, so I don’t know how to respond. What I was thinking of here is very, very basic observable “economic laws” that one really doesn’t see exceptions to: law of supply and demand, etc. A lot of the basic applications of this are fairly uncontroversial among economists: Excessively high minimum wage laws reduce employment, trade restrictions slow economic growth, etc.

    What I’m discussing in regard to Structuralists is not just a difference over should we have a social program to do X or leave it to private charity, but rather a claim one can ignore very basic economic tendencies in setting policy.

  • Patrick,

    I think those are some very good examples of what I had in mind as regards to the difference between Indifferentism and Economic-moralism.

    (And I’m glad my analysis made basic sense to a business owner.)

    Joe,

    It seems to me that whenever people hear a moral argument they don’t like, they call it “moralism”.

    What am I, on this list?

    Well, I’d put myself down as an Economic-moralist, if that helps any.

  • Exceptions are the rule to the law of supply and demand. “Excessively high minimum wage” isn’t an observed phenomenon, at least not one that has reduced employment. Trade restrictions slow economic growth except in Korea, China, the US prior to the first World War, Britain, etc. The US has seen slower economic growth post free trade than it has pre-free trade, although to retain intellectual honesty I will note that the US had more room for advancement prior to free trade than it did post free trade.

  • But do the neoliberals ever really take that into account in their “scientific models”? No, because they do not see classes, only individuals and their utilitarian preferences. Then “institutionalism” came along to redress some of these errors. But it never cut to the foundation.

    My problem with economic models is not that they are scientific – it is that they are usually abstract mathematical models that rarely, if ever, rely upon in historical evidence or political factors to shape and form them.

    Actually, I do agree that an attempt to act as if people as simply mathematical profit maximizers who can be perfectly predicted by mathematical models invariably ends up running off the rails. People aren’t numbers, and if I were to declare allegiance to an economist it would be Hayak, who had a fair amount to say about the necessity of keeping in mind what actually motivates people rather than just spending all one’s time on statistics.

    However, where we might differ a bit on this is that I think some of the basics (people would rather pay less than more; people would rather have more money than less money; when demand outstrips supply, the price rises, while when supply outstrips demand, the prices falls) actually take one a pretty long way. For instance, I would agree that the entire Soviet experiment was pretty much doomed because it sought to ignore these tendencies, or at least apply them at a class rather than an individual level.

    Which perhaps loops back to another difference, which is that I think it often does work well to model (or just think through) situations as if all economic actors were individuals rather than members of a class — because when push comes to shove most people seem to end up acting that way most of the time.

    Now, that’s not to deny the existence of non monetary cost and rewards. And I think we should, as a culture, definitely seek to increase the non monetary social costs of “doing bad business” in order to encourage right behavior. But I think we might have different ideas of how real class solidarity is.

  • MZ,

    Well, I’m almost out of lunch break — but just real quick:

    Exceptions are the rule to the law of supply and demand.

    I price based on supply and demand every day — believe me, it works.

    “Excessively high minimum wage” isn’t an observed phenomenon, at least not one that has reduced employment.

    As I think BA has pointed linked to studies showing several times, there is very nearly universal agreement that a truly significant increase in the minimum wage would have an adverse affect on employment.

    Trade restrictions slow economic growth except in Korea, China, the US prior to the first World War, Britain, etc.

    Whose trade restrictions and whose economic growth? All of those countries achieved massive growth based upon export economies, though at the same time keeping some restrictions on imports. Is your theory that they were at some magic sweet spot where they would have had less growth if their export trade had been restricted by destination countries, and also less growth if they had allowed greater imports? Evidence shows that growth can be achieved despite some restrictions (especially if other countries decide to allow free trade with you while letting you get away with restricting imports from them) but that doesn’t mean that freeing trade does not in fact increase growth. Again, the agreement on this is near universal — as shown by the amusing display during the campaign of Obama threatening to unilaterally change trade agreements while his advisers ran around assuring all our trading partners that he was lying.

    The US has seen slower economic growth post free trade than it has pre-free trade, although to retain intellectual honesty I will note that the US had more room for advancement prior to free trade than it did post free trade.

    Depends what you’re defining as free trade. The periods when the US suddenly clamped down on trade always had seriously adverse affects. I think you’re right about the different point in the development and opportunity curve.

  • But what about areas where legitimate economists disagree? What other reason besides moral values and personal preference does one have to accept the claims of the American Enterprise Institute over the Economic Policy Institute?

    Thinking of the economics profession as consisting of the American Enterprise Institute and the Economic Policy Institute is probably not a good idea. In any event, it seems to me that one could choose between the claims of AEI and EPI not based simply on moral values or personal preference but based on the quality of the arguments presented and the evidence used to support the claims.

  • “Thinking of the economics profession as consisting of the American Enterprise Institute and the Economic Policy Institute is probably not a good idea.”

    Well, then, its a good thing I don’t, and was simply picking two examples at random to make a point.

    “In any event, it seems to me that one could choose between the claims of AEI and EPI not based simply on moral values or personal preference but based on the quality of the arguments presented and the evidence used to support the claims.”

    That’s just the problem – the quality of the arguments is always good. Different sides can make equally plausible cases for whatever it is they wish to justify.

    The problem is what is emphasized and what is not, what is considered relevant and what is not, what goals for society are considered worthy and which are not. These are ultimately subjective positions.

  • Darwin,

    “But I think we might have different ideas of how real class solidarity is.”

    It became real enough to force every government in the world and the Catholic Church to react to it. But not real enough, it would seem, for a good many economists to react to it. Which is why I have a very hard time taking most of them seriously. Any economic model that ignores or minimizes politics is worthless.

  • That’s just the problem – the quality of the arguments is always good. Different sides can make equally plausible cases for whatever it is they wish to justify.

    Except that this isn’t actually true (if all economic arguments appear of equal quality and plausibility to you, then I would suggest this might have other causes than the inherent deficiency of economics).

  • In support of DarwinCatholic’s comments about free trade or the lack thereof, let me point to the effects of the Smoot-Hawley tarrif during the Depression. I haven’t seen any economist who hasn’t said that Smoot-Hawley deepened and lengthened the Depression, because it did cut off trade.

    Further, in my opinion, opposing free trade is an immoral position. A is making widgets for B. A and B happen to be living in the same country. Now C can make widgets for B just as well as A can, at less cost to B. Is it moral for A to change the law so that B can’t buy from C, esentially to use force to prevent B from buying from C? I would argue that it is not moral, for two reasons. First, it hurts B because he has to pay more for widgets, in effect paying a tax to A. Second, he is also hurting C and all of the people who would work for C making widgets, if B could buy from C. All that law does is allow B to be greedy. (I believe the economic term is monopoly rents.)

    Ah, but what if C is in another country than A and B? (Or did you already assume that? If so, go back and rethink it if they are in the same country.) Is it any more moral for A to keep C from selling to B if they are citizens of different countries? Those who would say yes usually talk in terms of “defending local jobs.” However, while those people usually work for A, those who would be working for C should not be deprived of employment. Protecting A, through artificial means, insures that the people who would work for C can not improve their economic lives. How is that moral?

  • It became real enough to force every government in the world and the Catholic Church to react to it. But not real enough, it would seem, for a good many economists to react to it. Which is why I have a very hard time taking most of them seriously. Any economic model that ignores or minimizes politics is worthless.

    I think it’s important to be clear on what it was that was real: the suffering caused in unskilled or low skilled workers during a rapid economic transformation of society. This provided large numbers of angry people with little to lose who were available to radical political movements.

    That doesn’t, however, necessarily mean that those individual people acted much like classes when they went out and decided what to buy — or to an extent who to work for.

    Also, economists (even very free market ones) don’t necessarily suggest one ignore those social pressures — their answers just aren’t the same as labor organizers or others with a specific class consciousness. For instance, Milton Freedman, as I recall, endorsed the idea of a negative income tax to assure that all people had a minimum standard of living.

    So the dispute isn’t so much over whether things should be done to relieve social pressures on the disadvantages as _how_ to do so.

  • “Except that this isn’t actually true (if all economic arguments appear of equal quality and plausibility to you, then I would suggest this might have other causes than the inherent deficiency of economics).”

    Ah, very funny. But thats not exactly what I said, and I will clarify so there is no misunderstanding – and hopefully, no call for such a snide remark.

    I believe there are different schools of economic thought that each have very able representatives capable of making quality arguments for different interpretations of economic reality and particular economic policies.

    It would be ‘deficient’, not to mention arrogant, to proclaim the triumph of one school or one paradigm over all others, as Fukuyama did when the USSR collapsed in 1991. It was been widely acknowledged that the “end of history” was prematurely proclaimed.

  • I haven’t seen any economist who hasn’t said that Smoot-Hawley deepened and lengthened the Depression, because it did cut off trade.

    It’s a tragedy that you haven’t seen that. Perhaps ideological blindness afflicts you.

  • Joe Hargrave argues that class solidarity trumps economics, and, therefore, economics is bunk.

    I think that the experiences of the 20th century demonstrate that class solidarity can not be the basis for a moral nation. Moral suasion and nuclear weapons were not sufficient to keep the Soviet Union afloat, either politically or economically. China’s survival has only occurred to the extent that Maoist class struggle has been replaced with the motto “It is glorious to get rich.” We can also look at any number of other countries where class struggle proved to be irrelevant to the average person. Class struggle has to be rejected based on our real world experience.

    Class struggle as a theory also represents a violation of God’s law of love. Whom are we struggling against? The plutocrats? The aristocracy? How can we struggle against them, seek their destruction, as Marx taught, but also love them, as Jesus taught? We should not confuse Catholicism with communism. A moral system can not be built on envy and jealousy as the entire foundation of the system.

    Only people in America and western Europe would think of the government as a potential provider of a moral economic system (if only the “right” people can get elected….”) In the rest of the world, people would scoff at the idea of using politics to improve people’s economic situation. In their world (and in ours, too, if you peek behind the curtain), those holding public office merely seek their own ends and that end is POWER! There is no salvation through politics.

  • I believe there are different schools of economic thought that each have very able representatives capable of making quality arguments for different interpretations of economic reality and particular economic policies.

    There are different schools of economic thought. Some (though not all) of them have able defenders capable of making quality arguments on behalf of their respective positions. It hardly follows that each school “can make equally plausible cases for whatever it is they wish to justify.”

  • “Joe Hargrave argues that class solidarity trumps economics, and, therefore, economics is bunk.”

    That is a gross oversimplification of my argument.

    What I actually argued is that an economic theory that does not take the reality of class conflict into account is not worth very much.

    Would it really have been so painful, so difficult, to address what I actually said instead of reducing it to a strawman that you could easily obliterate?

    Economics is not “bunk” – I don’t make that claim. What I think is “bunk” is a pretension to timelessness and universality made by some economists, which I think flies in the face of historical evidence, even if the pure mathematical models indicate something else.

    “Class struggle as a theory also represents a violation of God’s law of love. Whom are we struggling against?”

    This is a misstatement if I have ever seen one. There is a difference between acknowledging the actual existence of class conflict – as political philosophers since Aristotle and as the Church has done – and endorsing the political program of class struggle.

    Please tell me you understand that difference. Acknowledgment versus endorsement. One is not the other.

    “In the rest of the world, people would scoff at the idea of using politics to improve people’s economic situation.”

    What do you base this on?

  • MZ,
    I fail to see the tragedy. Are you seriously suggesting that there are any reputable economists who believe that Smoot-Hawley did not adverely affect the economy? Care to share?

  • “It hardly follows that each school “can make equally plausible cases for whatever it is they wish to justify.”

    I didn’t say that “it follows”. But I do think it happens to be true. What does plausible mean? It just means that the argument appears reasonable. Its the same as saying that each school makes a reasonable argument.

    Obviously I don’t think mutually exclusive arguments can both be true at the same time! Reasonableness is not truth. Plausibility is not truth. But two opposing arguments can both be reasonable at the same time if they are beginning from different assumptions and different perspectives on the available facts.

    I don’t see why anyone would wish to deny such a thing.

  • What does plausible mean?

    Seemingly or apparently valid, likely, or acceptable; credible.

    To say that the case for one position is equally plausible as that of any other is to say that all positions are or appear to be equally valid, likely, acceptable, credible, etc. That’s not the case.

  • I think that it might be important to distinguish between the fields of micro-economics and macro-economics. At least when I was in school (I was an economics major many moons ago), there was very little debate within the field of micro-economics. While models assumed rational behavior it was fully understood that the desires of consumers and producers involved values other than dollars. Indeed, some people who could be investment bankers choose instead to become priests. Macro-economics is trickier, and the efficacy of fiscal policy stimulus in a liquidity trap environment is certainly subject to debate, for instance. Also, there is plenty of room for debate in the context of the economic consequences of tax policy. For example, do higher tax rates induce less savings (because the reduced after-tax return from investments makes consumption more desirable) or more savings (because the reduced return requires taxpayers to save more in order to satisfy their savings goals. In truth, we probably don’t really know. But debate does not mean that economic principles do not apply; instead it signifies that understanding the disparate motivations of people is complex, even if one assumes that people are fully rational and have adequate information to make proper decisions in light of their particular objectives. The key is to apply economic principles more carefully and mindful of our limitations. But ignoring such principles as though they are fictions or less than real is really very naive and quite dangerous.

  • “To say that the case for one position is equally plausible as that of any other is to say that all positions are or appear to be equally valid, likely, acceptable, credible, etc. That’s not the case.”

    So plausibility is validity now?

    I also hoped that it would have been obvious that I was referring to debates among economists themselves (in fact, I think I said that) – and not necessarily just any old person. I’m assuming a methodological framework and minimum analytical competence here. So no, not “all” positions and arguments if “all” includes any argument that could possibly be made. But among professionals and well-educated laypersons, yes – I’d say opposing views can both be plausible at the same time.

  • “But ignoring such principles as though they are fictions or less than real is really very naive and quite dangerous.”

    Sure, I agree – and my point is that ignoring things that are not directly economic, such as political conflict, class conflict, or any number of potential issues when trying to make an economic analysis, is also really naive and really dangerous as well.

  • Author: Joe Hargrave
    Comment:
    “Joe Hargrave argues that class solidarity trumps economics, and, therefore, economics is bunk.”

    That is a gross oversimplification of my argument.

    What I actually argued is that an economic theory that does not take the reality of class conflict into account is not worth very much.

    Would it really have been so painful, so difficult, to address what I actually said instead of reducing it to a strawman that you could easily obliterate?

    Economics is not “bunk” – I don’t make that claim. What I think is “bunk” is a pretension to timelessness and universality made by some economists, which I think flies in the face of historical evidence, even if the pure mathematical models indicate something else.

    Patrick Duffy replies:
    I apologize for not repeating every word you used.
    I truly do not wish to be irritating, but we do fundamentally disagree.

    You apparently place a great deal of importance on class struggle. Class struggle, at least in my mind, is a term of art used in Marxist theory for what the true believers think will result in the ultimate triumph of the proletariat. Marxist theory can be rejected as having any value on moral, historical and practical grounds, as I attempted to outline earlier. The pages of 20th history have written fini to Marxist theory as the way to organize a country. If you believe that class struggle is a good way to analyze society, that’s your right, but it is not one shared by the common man, in my experience. Not one member of what you would call the proletariat (aside from middle class intellectuals who like to pose as part of the downtrodden masses) that I know, and I know hundreds, uses that term.

    “Class struggle as a theory also represents a violation of God’s law of love. Whom are we struggling against?”

    This is a misstatement if I have ever seen one. There is a difference between acknowledging the actual existence of class conflict – as political philosophers since Aristotle and as the Church has done – and endorsing the political program of class struggle.

    Please tell me you understand that difference. Acknowledgment versus endorsement. One is not the other.

    Patrick Duffy replies,
    Please excuse me for not going into every implication or assumption of everything I wrote.

    Do people of lesser means want to do better economically? Yes. I reserve the right to point out that “lesser means” is relative to the times and place in which they find themselves. The poor in America have more, economically, than most in many other countries and certainly more than even the wealthy in times past. (E.g. electricity, hot water, indoor plumbing, maybe even a television?)

    If you want to call that “struggle,” then so be it, but it is still not a term that resonates with the public. Can you substitute “making a living?” To limit it to people of a certain class is to write off the ambitions, hopes and dreams of anyone not in that class. I will point, in passing, to the line of thought among many (maybe not a majority, certainly not all, but definitely more than a small number) of the poor, the blue collar, the proletariat, who don’t think that others of their class should try to better themselves. “Getting above themselves” or “putting on airs” are the putdowns used for the ambitious. In short, members of the proletariat who choose not to “struggle.”
    The key, though, is how one tries to advance oneself economically, not whether they are successful, either in absolute terms or relative to others. One can give oneself up to greed, envy, jealousy, even violence in doing so. Politics, as practiced in the real world, is a means of trying to advance oneself by non-economic means. Guess what? Every human being is a sinner. Some sins are manifested in the economic sphere and definitely in the political sphere. Those who are successful in politics are able to draw a smokescreen across their personal interests and talk in terms of lofty ideals. Machiavelli was a realist about politics. At the same time, that’s not the way the game should be played, but power corrupts. My point, and I do have one, is that politics is not more important than economics, anymore than politics is not better than chemistry. Does chemistry have to take politics into account? I don’t think so. Economic theory can talk about what people will do, absent politics. Yes, politics can influence economic decisions (which, I think is what you want me to admit), but so does envy, jealousy, lust and a host of other things. So what? Does that mean that economic theory is not predictive? Yes, it is, in the long run, even if, in the short run, other factors may distort the results. I know I don’t have it quite complete, but Daymon Runyon wrote something like “The race isn’t always to the swiftest, but that’s the way to bet it.”

    “In the rest of the world, people would scoff at the idea of using politics to improve people’s economic situation.”

    What do you base this on?

    Patrick Duffy replies,
    Africa, the Middle East, south Asia, Russia, South America today. Before today, ancient Rome, Europe (before roughly 1800), Africa, China, Russia, the Middle East, south Asia. Perhaps I could have been more exact by saying that “ordinary people would scoff at the idea that politics will improve their lives, unless they are the ones in power, or their minds have been temporarily clouded by the promises of the snake oil salesman.” Politicians may promise that life will be better if they are elected but the sad experience of humanity is that taking money from one group of people to give it to another group is a short term improvement that is not sustainable. Sooner or later, the involuntary payors run out of money. (also cf. California.)

  • i wonder if surgeons have to endure these kinds of debates with people who don’t know anatomy? debates in the catholic blogosphere about economics always seem to have that quality.

  • “AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
    I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
    Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

    We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
    That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
    But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
    So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

    We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
    Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
    But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
    That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

    With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
    They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
    They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
    So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

    When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
    They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
    But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

    On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
    (Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
    Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

    In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
    By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
    But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

    Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
    And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
    That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

    As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
    There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
    That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
    And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

    And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
    When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
    As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
    The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!”

    -Rudyard Kipling

  • So plausibility is validity now?

    I didn’t come up with the definition. Blame the dictionary people.

    I also hoped that it would have been obvious that I was referring to debates among economists themselves (in fact, I think I said that) – and not necessarily just any old person. I’m assuming a methodological framework and minimum analytical competence here.

    Okay, but in that case there are going to be a fair number of issues on which economists agree. And even where you have minimally competent economists disagreeing with each other, it will still often be the case that one side’s arguments are more plausible than the other’s.

    Assume for a moment, though, that arguments on both sides of a question are equally plausible. You sometimes speak as if this means we can just ignore the arguments. But I don’t think that’s right. Take the minimum wage as an example. A lot of economists say that the minimum wage hurts the poor. Others say that it helps the poor. Suppose that the arguments of both sides seem equally plausible to you. What should you do? If you really aren’t sure whether the minimum wage helps the poor or hurts the poor, then advocating the minimum wage as a means of helping the poor does not seem sensible (in the same way that if you weren’t sure whether the liquid in a bucket was water or gasoline it wouldn’t be sensible to use the bucket to try and put out a fire).

  • PD,

    “I apologize for not repeating every word you used.”

    You don’t have to repeat every word I use to avoid making absurd strawmen out of my arguments.

    “I truly do not wish to be irritating, but we do fundamentally disagree.”

    I don’t really think we do. You’ve misunderstood me, that is for certain.

    “You apparently place a great deal of importance on class struggle. Class struggle, at least in my mind, is a term of art used in Marxist theory for what the true believers think will result in the ultimate triumph of the proletariat.”

    Ok, I see what is in your mind – how about now you try to see what is mine? “Class struggle”, regardless of what we think about it – I’d say class conflict, myself – is a reality. Just like the “laws of economics”, the conflict between classes might also be said to be a “law of history”, one related to economics.

    You do not have to support one class or another in order to acknowledge that they are in conflict. If you see two people in a fistfight on the street, saying, “hey, there’s a fight going on there” is not the same as saying, “hey, I want that guy to win”.

    This is a very, very simple point.

    “Marxist theory can be rejected as having any value on moral, historical and practical grounds, as I attempted to outline earlier.”

    Well, I disagree that it has no value. Love it or hate it, it presents an analysis that cannot be ignored. If the Church can address it, so can we.

    “If you believe that class struggle is a good way to analyze society, that’s your right”

    A good way to analyze society? In the sense that I acknowledge that it is a reality and incorporate it into any understanding of society that I have, then yes.

    But following the example of the Church, my goal is to minimize it, not to exploit it.

    “Please excuse me for not going into every implication or assumption of everything I wrote.”

    Should I forgive you for completely ignoring the main point? You are arguing with me as if I were arguing for a proletarian revolution. Do you really think that’s fair? Do you really think anything I said implies that that’s what I want to see happen?

    As for what “struggle” means, you are mixing up the struggle for individual existence with the struggle between groups for the wealth of society. The battle over wages between workers and employers is a struggle between classes.

    If you follow my postings, however, you know that I do not believe that arbitrarily imposing higher wages is a viable solution to this problem. I do believe workers have a right to organize and collectively bargain, but I believe a better long term solution is to eliminate the conflict between worker and owner by making more workers owners.

    And this solution comes right out of an extended passage in Rerum Novarum, the original document outlining the Church’s position on economic issues.

    “My point, and I do have one, is that politics is not more important than economics, anymore than politics is not better than chemistry. Does chemistry have to take politics into account? I don’t think so. Economic theory can talk about what people will do, absent politics.”

    Economics is not a physical science, it is a social science. It’s subject is never impersonal, inhuman atoms or molecules, but men with free will living in particular social and cultural conditions. That will always make it distinct from physics or chemistry.

    In all this I know it must seem as if I totally reject economic science, but I don’t. What I reject are the pretensions of neoliberals who do not give adequate space to non-economic factors when trying to come up with policy recommendations. No country has ever adopted a perfect, ideal market model, and no country has ever completely collapsed because of it.

    It is arguable that they have been much better off thanks to regulation, periods of economic protection, strong trade unions, social investment and redistribution of wealth.

    It is also evident that different cultures – such as, for instance, Japanese culture – can accommodate much more state involvement in the economy, and greater limits on the accumulation of personal wealth, and still manage to become the second most prosperous nation in the world. In this country we hear that only the promise of God-like wealth will induce anyone to want to do anything important, like start businesses and create jobs. This is often presented with the air of an economic law – in spite of the fact that other countries and cultures show that this is just not the case.

    All of that said, my preference is not necessarily for more state involvement but a new localism that gives people more control over their own economic fate. Honestly, the supply and demand stuff, I take no issue with – I don’t want a command economy. I want an end to economic oligarchy and autocracy, and I believe that is a political question.

  • MZ, can you give an example of libertarianism leading to totalitarianism? Before the Chinese takeover, Hong Kong probably came closer to Ayn Rand’s dreams than any other spot on earth – and the place seemed to be doing pretty well. Control was ceded to China because the British lease was up, not because the have-nots rebelled. America in the late 19th century was also a pretty free-wheeling place and, while the corruption and lack of social services and safeguards led to the reforms of the Progressive Era, we clearly didn’t end up living under totalitarianism.

    In fact, I’m very hard pressed to think of any countries, outside of the 2 examples I mentioned, that have come close to having libertarian economic systems, let alone ones which then became totalitarian.

    Czarist Russia was not economically libertarian. Neither was Weimar Germany. Bismarck had laid the foundations for the German welfare state back in the 19th century. The post-defeat malaise and moral decay of Weimar Germany is well-known and certainly contributed to the rise of the Nazis, but libertarianism does not mean “an abundance of libertines,” although when I read libertarian blogs, I see how someone could confuse the two:-)

  • “Suppose that the arguments of both sides seem equally plausible to you. What should you do?”

    This is funny because it is an issue where I actually agree with you and all the other economists. But I don’t go out there arguing against the minimum wage without offering an alternative that addresses the reason why people wanted the minimum wage to begin with.

    On the other hand there are people who have these “all good things will come in the fullness of time” arguments, the long historical view (also typical of socialists on the other side) – these arguments mean nothing to people who are struggling today.

    Ultimately, though, when there is such disagreement, what it means to me is this: certainty is not warranted. Grandiose proclamations that one and only one approach could possibly be acceptable are not warranted. Rigid applications are not warranted. There must always be room for revision and compromise over time. These are no idle concerns, because we have examples of regimes in history that have done these sorts of things in the name of science, even economic science – terrible, inhuman things.

  • According to the 2009 Index of Economic Freedom, Hong Kong is still in the top spot:

    http://www.heritage.org/index/ranking.aspx

    Again, I’d like to know how libertarianism supposedly leads to totalitarianism. When I scan the dismal bottom half of that list, I don’t see many nations – heck, I don’t see any nations where libertarian economic principles once held sway.

  • There’s a lot being said, so I’m going to jump in blind and hope I don’t make a fool of myself…

    “Economics is not a physical science, it is a social science. It’s subject is never impersonal, inhuman atoms or molecules, but men with free will living in particular social and cultural conditions.”

    “What I reject are the pretensions of neoliberals who do not give adequate space to non-economic factors when trying to come up with policy recommendations.”

    Economics, as a science, deals with human choices with observable laws that are discoverable. The law of scarcity is not something that can be argued against – resources are always finite and therefore “scarce”. The division of labor is an observable phenomena characteristic of prosperous and developed economies. (Even biology in a sense follows the division of labor!)

    This does not mean that economics is mathematical. No equation is going to fully encapsulate human action. However, nor does it mean that economics is a field of study in which “models” and “isms” ought be created or selected at whim. The consequences of economic choices can be observed and foreseen.

    As we continue to discover the laws of economics, we have to reconcile those laws with our behavior. Our decisions in response to those laws are indeed moral in nature, or at least have moral consequences. Economics, while in and of itself a “valueless” science, involves HUMAN ACTIONS which have moral dimensions. It may sound like hair splitting, but I think its a crucial distinction to make in order to improve our understanding of the world and how we can improve our “lot”.

    No one is arguing that the story begins and ends with economic realities. No economic observation can offer salvation. What defenders of free-market economics argue is that state interventionist policies run completely contrary to reality. It makes perfect sense to want to further build and develop the world, but socialist/Marxist ideals do not accomplish this. Defying the law of gravity took building airplanes with an understanding of physics. It would not have helped aviators to just jump off cliffs over and over again hoping for a different result while whining about physicists’ warnings.

    “No country has ever adopted a perfect, ideal market model…”

    I’d argue that maybe there isn’t a “model” to adopt. There’s just reality next to various degrees of deviation.

    “It is arguable that they have been much better off thanks to regulation, periods of economic protection, strong trade unions, social investment and redistribution of wealth.”

    How so? It all comes at a price, and often the price here is a loss of jobs and a loss of stable growth. New laborers get priced out of the market, resources are sapped away from productive investment and benefits are dolled out not to who needs it most but rather to political constituencies. Protectionism only entrenches the political classes while simultaneously denying foreign infusions of needed capital. Never mind the fact that forced “redistribution of wealth” is just another word for outright theft. If we are so concerned about the morality of economics, how can we justify forcibly taking other people’s property?

    There is a such thing as a moral “redistribution”. Its called charity, and what makes it beautiful and meaningful is that when its done voluntarily and in concert with economic realities great things can be built.

    Perhaps the “models” we ought be looking for are not different economic or state models, but new kinds of businesses and forms of cooperation.

    “It is also evident that different cultures – such as, for instance, Japanese culture – can accommodate much more state involvement in the economy, and greater limits on the accumulation of personal wealth, and still manage to become the second most prosperous nation in the world.”

    But how was this possible? The Japanese people SAVED. That is why they could accommodate the insane policies of their government and central bank. What makes the U.S. situation so much worse is our lack of savings, thanks to the Fed’s long period of low interest rates which rewarded bad behavior. And yes, Japan is a large economy… but they could be doing so much better. I never hear about how great Japan is like I did in the 80’s, I just keep hearing about their “lost decade” now.

    “All of that said, my preference is not necessarily for more state involvement but a new localism that gives people more control over their own economic fate. Honestly, the supply and demand stuff, I take no issue with – I don’t want a command economy. I want an end to economic oligarchy and autocracy, and I believe that is a political question.”

    I think these kinds of things will happen and are happening as the correction continues. For me, the first major step is for the American people to return to honest money. I don’t believe any genuine recovery can be built if the very blood of the economy (money) is poisonous.

  • “Again, I’d like to know how libertarianism supposedly leads to totalitarianism. When I scan the dismal bottom half of that list, I don’t see many nations – heck, I don’t see any nations where libertarian economic principles once held sway.”

    If it was framed that libertarianism inspires a totalitarian reaction from those that resent the prosperity of others… I can buy that. But I don’t see how libertarianism naturally could slide into totalitarianism.

  • “If it was framed that libertarianism inspires a totalitarian reaction from those that resent the prosperity of others… I can buy that. But I don’t see how libertarianism naturally could slide into totalitarianism.”

    Historical examples? Neither Weimar Germany nor Czarist Russia were bastions of economic libertarianism. In both cases of course there were other factors that led to totalitarianism in each of those nations. In regard to both Weimar Germany and Czarist Russia for example anger at defeat in war were key factors, the existence of ruthless parties willing to use any means to seize and keep political power, an inability or unwillingness to take necessary measures to stop violence as a means of attaining political power, intellectuals prostituting themselves at the altar of totalitarian ideologies, etc. Economic distress, the norm throughout most of human history, rarely leads to revolution unless other more important factors are in play.

  • Two things.

    For those asking for examples of what MZ was talking about, I would say Chile is the prime example, though it wasn’t libertarianism “in action” leading to dictatorship, but rather a dictator using oppression to implement the policies of his choosing, which happened to be neoliberal (if you want to call that “libertarian”).

    Unless he was talking about something else entirely.

    Second thing: I’m going to make it a policy not to argue with more than two people at once, which probably means no more arguing about economics on this blog. I don’t know where Tim and Eric are or for that matter, Morning’s Minion or Michael Iafrate, all of whom I think might be more inclined to see my point of view more sympathetically and balance this out a bit. Five or six on one is a game I don’t wish to play.

  • I have a feeling that the conversation is becoming something like a squid fighting with itself, but I’d like to see if maybe we can gain some clarity on one thing (or perhaps this would more be a post request).

    Joe, you say:

    Ok, I see what is in your mind – how about now you try to see what is mine? “Class struggle”, regardless of what we think about it – I’d say class conflict, myself – is a reality. Just like the “laws of economics”, the conflict between classes might also be said to be a “law of history”, one related to economics.

    You do not have to support one class or another in order to acknowledge that they are in conflict. If you see two people in a fistfight on the street, saying, “hey, there’s a fight going on there” is not the same as saying, “hey, I want that guy to win”.

    This may seem dense of me, but I’m actually not sure what it is that we’re talking about here. Looking at history, I very seldom see a class conflict dynamic at work. And the example you give (class struggle between employers and workers) is again something that I just don’t see.

    Maybe this is partly just a matter of perspective. When I look at workers and employers (with some experience as each) I see that workers want to make as much money as they can while still having the time and peace of mind to enjoy their leisure (and wanting to avoid unpleasant work) and that employers want to find good workers who will help them achieve their business aims while remaining affordable. This leads leads to constant exchange and interplay, but I don’t really see a whole lot of struggle involved, and it strikes me as a complex interplay or direct relationships rather than some sort of society-wide struggle.

    I’m not sure if we mean different things by the terms or if we’re seeing different things or what. Would you consider expanding on the topic in a comment or post?

  • I’m going to make it a policy not to argue with more than two people at once, which probably means no more arguing about economics on this blog. I don’t know where Tim and Eric are or for that matter, Morning’s Minion or Michael Iafrate, all of whom I think might be more inclined to see my point of view more sympathetically and balance this out a bit. Five or six on one is a game I don’t wish to play.

    Incidentally — I think that’s a fairly sound approach. The other thing I sometimes do when I venture onto heavily progressive leaning venues is only bother to address the points that actively interest me and not try to take on the whole crowd.

    Picking battles seems essential to sanity on the internet — to the extent I can claim to maintain that.

  • Well said, Anthony, certainly better than I was able to state the argument.

    I’d like to return for a moment to the excessive increases in minimum wage as an employment killer argument. I will disagree with DarwinCatholic on this, at least to the extent that I would like to remove “excessive” from the statement. I believe that any minimum wage keeps people from working, which is immoral on the face of it.

    People are hired to do work because they can produce value for the employer, more value than the employer can produce on his or her own. That’s another way of saying that the employed person can successfully serve the needs of others. That “value” will fluctuate over time for a number of reasons. In the long run, however, people will work at the job that pays the most, in both monetary and non-monetary terms, because that’s how the economy allocates the resource that consists of their time. If a lot of people would pay money to watch me play soccer, why would I work in a warehouse for minimum wage? The enjoyment those spectators would receive clearly outstrips how much good I can do by pulling boxes off the shelves with a forklift.

    But if there is a minimum wage, society is saying that it is better that I have no job than one that pays less than X. In other words, if I can’t produce more value per hour than X (plus payroll taxes, benefits, etc.), then I won’t have a job, even if that job is the highest and best use of my talents. So is it more moral that I can not work, at least not at any legal job?

    That may seem to be very abstract, theoretical economic theory. I assure you that it is not.
    I serve on the board of directors of a Catholic charity that hires people with disabilities. We have a variety of jobs to fill. The top people make minimum wage, most do not. You do not have to be around them very long before you obtain a profound understanding of the meaning of the phrase “the dignity of work.” You discover that it isn’t some Labor Day politician boiler plate phrase. They love their job, they love feeling that they have worth because they are able to do things.

    Why do we pay less than minimum wage? Because that’s all the value they can produce. If we had to pay at least minimum wage, we would have to close the doors, because our employees would not be able to produce as much value as our competition (which does not hire people with disabilities.) [For the record, the minimum wage laws allow an exemption for those who hire people with disabilities, subject to certain requirements that we meet.] We wrote over 2,000 W-2’s last year to people with disabilities. Few of them would have a job if we had to pay minimum wage.

    At the same time, in our state, only 10% of people with certified disabilities have a job. I see the life of the other 90% as a terrible waste of the talents of good people, people who would love to have a job, people that “the system” says aren’t good enough to work, because their work, the value they can produce doesn’t come up to the minimum wage. How can you, in good conscience, say “It’s better that you stay home and watch TV all day, every day, than you go to a job that only pays $5 an hour?”

    Now lets take that a little farther. We, for the most part, deal with people with certified disabilities. A doctor has looked at them and said “Yes, you do have what we call Downs syndrome.” But there are quite a few people that are, frankly, marginal. They may not quite slide over into a government defined certifiable disability, but they’re close. Maybe their disability is that there has been so much trauma in their lives that they just can’t “keep it together.” Maybe they came to this country without ever having any schooling and their spoken language isn’t English. Is it better that these people can not work?

    Unfortunately, I hear too many people who think of jobs and pay as if all employers were some kind of charity, that can just dole out “living wage” jobs to people if their hearts were just in the right place. Without the ability to produce value, however, there won’t be jobs for anyone.

  • Actually Joe in regard to Allende I rather think this is an example of a would be totalitarian, Allende, Castro’s chum, helping to cause a reaction to relative economic freedom. I would note that the democratic governments that peacefully succeeded the Pinochet dictatorship have largely left his economic legacy intact.

  • Castro’s remembrance of his good friend on the centennial of his birth. Hope you have a fond reunion soon Fidel!
    http://www.lankamission.org/content/view/459/9/

  • “Would you consider expanding on the topic in a comment or post?”

    On class conflict? Sure. But I think I may as well say in advance that I’m just not going to reply to comments.

  • …or, better yet, do yourself some service and read Thomas Sowell.

    DarwinCatholic seems to me very much correct in his assessment:

    Looking at history, I very seldom see a class conflict dynamic at work. And the example you give (class struggle between employers and workers) is again something that I just don’t see.

  • Patrick,

    I get your point. (I have one of those “margin” people in the family — probably diagnosable, actually, but doesn’t want to be. And as a result, he’s never been able to hold a job though I try to find stuff he can do from time to time freelance.)

    At the overall level, it seems to me that the minimum wage we have doesn’t increase unemployment much since only a few percent of workers actually make minimum wage. But in that same sense, I don’t see that it helps at all either.

  • On class conflict? Sure. But I think I may as well say in advance that I’m just not going to reply to comments.

    Cool. I’d just like to understand what you’re seeing.

  • Darwin,

    Let me just say right now, for the night, that it sounds like you’re talking about a small or medium business in present-day America. I’m talking about a historical phenomenon that covers many more times and places than that. And it isn’t as if we haven’t seen strikes, unionization drives, protests, even a factory occupation, and other signs of class conflict in America, especially since the economic crisis.

    The American experience is indeed unique with regard to class conflict. But it would be a mistake to assume it isn’t there.

  • Well, in part I’m thinking of my own experience, which is in small (under thirty employees) and very large (Fortune 100) companies in the modern US. But I’m also trying to understand more widely what you’re talking about in terms of class conflict.

    Certainly, it seems uncontroversial that there is at times conflict between some people who are of one class and some people who are of another. However, it doesn’t seem to me that classes really exist as a fixed entity which one can say to be at war with another. Some people find it to their benefit to join some sort of movement or action, but others find it to their benefit to break ranks.

    For instance, in the grocery workers strike in Southern California back when I was leaving (2003) you had grocery workers on strike and grocery chains holding out — but you also had lots of people happy to cross the lines and take the open jobs at the available terms, and as I recall one of the grocery chains made a separate deal with the union.

    In ancient Rome, you had the Roman mob, which could often be bought off to behave as a group in demanding political action, but among the aristocrats you had the Optimates who supported the old institutions and the Populares who gained power by claiming to support the interests of the mob.

    Looking at various events in history, it seems to me that people act the most like a “class” when some group with power uses coercion to try to force them to be interchangeable and expendable, rather than allowing them to make their ways as best they can. For instance, one of the major root causes of Wat Tyler’s peasant rebellion in late medieval England was the Statute of Labourers, which sought to force peasants and craftsmen to work for the same hours and wages as before the black death — rolling back the gains which labourers had made in the wake of the labor supply dearth after the Black Death. This combined with a heavy flat per capita tax (which thus hit the poor much harder than the rich) caused peasants to band together and revolt, despite the likely eventuality of their massacre.

    However, outside of the most egregious abuses such as that, it seems to me that people end up acting as individuals much of the time rather than acting as if they belong to a monolithic class. Poorer workers happily snap up jobs that better off workers won’t take; employers bid each others employees away from each other, etc. There doesn’t seem to me to be a unified class dynamic at play much of the time, and when it is, it’s mainly because people have been forced into a “class” artificially. So for instance, I’d see there as being an actual class conflict between employers and workers only a small minority of the time.

    When you talk about class struggle, are you just observing the tendency to people to band together when collectively forced into a corner like that, or are you talking about some sort of more general dynamic?

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43 Responses to Common Good, Common Sense Economics

  • Is it possible that the frequency and destructiveness of hurricanes hitting Florida and the propensity for Floridians to build their houses “upon the sand” is a factor in the high cost of house insurance there?

    Just a thought.

  • ps. is house insurance REALLY a “necessity”??? Is living in Hurricane ravaged Florida when you can’t afford insurance or to rebuild out of pocket a “necessity”? Lot’s of low cost housing and jobs in Texas, come on over.

  • Unrestrained markets work really well when it comes to most products and services — if a restaurant is too pricey, you can just drive past it.

    But it’s different when we’re dealing with the things that all people must have to pursue their personal happiness in community with others.

    Those include infrastructure, healthy air, food and water….

    Don’t restaurants serve food?

  • Matt:

    You probably should get smacked for those comments. A few points:

    I’m pretty sure Texas suffers natural disasters (tornadoes, droughts, hurricanes, etc.) that you guys are quite thrilled to have the federal government and insurance companies come in and pay for. If insurance companies started preventing you from having insurance, so that you’re a disaster away from having nothing, I’m pretty sure you’d be a little upset.

    “Just move?” You say that so casually. Moving away from your home, culture, and family isn’t a joyful thing. It’s not a conservative thing either, unless you’re just pretending about all the stuff about community and family and tradition, etc.

    Every community has its dangers, but every person is born into that community. Whether it’s the blizzards in the north, earthquakes in the west, tornadoes in the midwest and texas, or hurricanes in the south people should be able to purchase insurance for their homes and possessions at a reasonable rate and have those companies treat them fairly.

    Telling them to move or live without insurance shows a lack of understanding and charity.

  • Michael Denton,

    You probably should get smacked for those comments. A few points

    just like a lefty, resorting to such behaviour when arguments fail.

    I’m pretty sure Texas suffers natural disasters (tornadoes, droughts, hurricanes, etc.) that you guys are quite thrilled to have the federal government and insurance companies come in and pay for.

    Well personally I’m generally opposed to FEMA, but I’m in favor of insurance companies paying out to those insured who have suffered losses. While we do have natural disasters, the overwhelming majority of Texans do not live in areas which are regularly inundated. Those that do wish to live upon the sand, should pay for insurance based on their risk, or pay for their own repairs.

    If insurance companies started preventing you from having insurance, so that you’re a disaster away from having nothing, I’m pretty sure you’d be a little upset.

    Insurance companies aren’t preventing anyone from doing anything. They are simply not offering services. DO you think every business should offer services to everyone regardless of the cost of doing so??? That’s absurd.

    “Just move?” You say that so casually. Moving away from your home, culture, and family isn’t a joyful thing. It’s not a conservative thing either, unless you’re just pretending about all the stuff about community and family and tradition, etc.

    I didn’t say it casually, but it must be said. If you can’t find work, or afford to live where you have been living, you MUST move to support your family, that is a MORAL obligation. It’s not the governments responsibility to make every region affordable so that you can live where you chose regardless of ability to pay. That IS conservative.

    Every community has its dangers, but every person is born into that community. Whether it’s the blizzards in the north, earthquakes in the west, tornadoes in the midwest and texas, or hurricanes in the south people should be able to purchase insurance for their homes and possessions at a reasonable rate and have those companies treat them fairly.

    Of course the companies must treat people fairly, but why do you think hurricane insurance is so expensive in Florida, and less so elsewhere? What is a “reasonable rate” for insurance? It’s the risk of loss * the amount of losses, simple as that, higher risk (such as hurricane’s in florida) means higher rates. Are you saying that people who live in the Mid-West should subsidize Floridians to be insured for losses in a hurricane?

    Telling them to move or live without insurance shows a lack of understanding and charity.

    Not in the slightest, it’s just common sense.

    ps. I’m not suggesting there aren’t legitimate gripes with how insurance companies deal with people, it’s the nature of the demands being made above that are erroneous.

  • Home insurance is essential if you want a state/nation of home owners according to how our mortgage system is set up- this is so that if catastrophe hits you don’t decimate whole neighborhoods by having destroyed homes left abandoned and rotting next door I suppose- if someone has a better idea for continuity for home owners then that might be worthy to hear about. But this post is really meant to connect up with the Pope’s encyclical, so try and keep your proposed solutions based upon something from that authoritative source.

    The exact list of what is essential to live a decent life here in America may vary- but what about the main points here?

  • Just move? You say that so casually.

    To be fair, there are those territories below sea level that most assuredly will suffer repeat disasters, where homes should never have been built in the first place.

    Is it really reasonable that billions of dollars be devoted to the rebuilding of homes, etc. in areas that will simply end up experiencing the same disasters all over again the following years?

  • just like a lefty, resorting to such behaviour when arguments fail.

    Did you just call me a lefty? If so, I am certainly not. I am proud son of the state of Louisiana, which is why i took offense to your ignorance and indifference. As it is attitudes like yours that have left many of my neighbors destitute, the adjoining neighborhoods abandoned, and the city of New Orleans struggling, allow me the indulgence of being upset.

    Well personally I’m generally opposed to FEMA, but I’m in favor of insurance companies paying out to those insured who have suffered losses. While we do have natural disasters, the overwhelming majority of Texans do not live in areas which are regularly inundated. Those that do wish to live upon the sand, should pay for insurance based on their risk, or pay for their own repairs.

    Without trying to wade into the mess of what “personally I’m generally opposed” is supposed to mean, the assertion that Texas is a utopian place immune to nature is laughable. Even not considering Houston, Galveston, and Corpus Christi which suffer from hurricane danger, Texas routinely suffers tragedy from nature.

    Insurance companies aren’t preventing anyone from doing anything. They are simply not offering services. DO you think every business should offer services to everyone regardless of the cost of doing so??? That’s absurd.

    Nonsense. You need insurance to get a mortgage; you need a mortgage to buy a house. No insurance=no mortgage=no house. If the insurance companies gouge prices, then they are most certainly forcing people to move.

    As for them offering services regardless of the cost, I’d think you’d be hard pressed to find that the insurance companies are really charging appropriate prices. After all, in the year following Rita & Katrina, the insurance companies made billions. They’re not hurting and they’re certainly making enough money to not have to raise prices they way they did.

    I didn’t say it casually, but it must be said. If you can’t find work, or afford to live where you have been living, you MUST move to support your family, that is a MORAL obligation. It’s not the governments responsibility to make every region affordable so that you can live where you chose regardless of ability to pay. That IS conservative.

    No, you sound so upset and heartbroken that families have to be torn apart and communities abandoned. Indeed, it is clear that you feel our pain.

    It is most certainly the obligation of government to preserve the community when it threatened by companies gouging prices. It is NOT conservative or Catholic to allow big corporations to become the arbiters of what is moral and to allow them free reign. It is is a legitimate use of governmental authority to step in and ensure that the insurance companies are charging appropriate rates.

    Of course the companies must treat people fairly, but why do you think hurricane insurance is so expensive in Florida, and less so elsewhere? What is a “reasonable rate” for insurance? It’s the risk of loss * the amount of losses, simple as that, higher risk (such as hurricane’s in florida) means higher rates. Are you saying that people who live in the Mid-West should subsidize Floridians to be insured for losses in a hurricane?

    I’m not saying the rates in Florida should be the same as in everywhere else. You live on the beach you have higher rates, just like if you drive more recklessly you have high rates. that’s understandable. The problem is when insurance companies are pricing out entire cities and communities. Not everyone “lives on the sand” as you fancifully put it.

    I think they should be reasonable and affordable. As far as what those rates are, I’m not an insurance adjuster, but I can tell you that a 100% hike is probably not justified, which is usually what happens after a storm. If it is, then the government should step in and make sure that they can subsidize those rates. After all, the people in Louisiana and Florida often live so close “to the sand” in order to provide oil for Texan Suburbans and shipping portals for Midwestern farmers. Louisiana gladly subsidizes other states when they have an emergency and it’s not unreasonable to expect the same kindness.

    So don’t give me this nonsense about your indignity about helping people pay for insurance or with the government making sure the prices charged are fair.

    I’m not suggesting there aren’t legitimate gripes with how insurance companies deal with people, it’s the nature of the demands being made above that are erroneous.

    Mention State farm or Allstate in any gathering space in the state of Louisiana, and you’ll understand “legitimate gripes.” For example, the insurance companies changed their mind about how high they wanted certain houses raised, so that all of sudden some people houses which originally met minimum requirements were now 2 inches too tall and were denied coverage.

    Communities and their heritage and families are more important than the profit-margins of insurance companies.

  • On the issue of home insurance, my question would be this: Tim says in his editorial that “the big insurance providers don’t truly compete against one another on price.” If this is true (and it would be interesting to hear how he knows this) the obvious question is why not? After all, presumably people would prefer to pay less on home insurance rather than more. Why doesn’t some insurance company reduce their prices and take all their competitors’ business?

    I used to live in Florida and in fact the area in which I lived was hit by a major hurricane while I was there. It was a gorgeous area and there were many beautiful houses right up against the beach. It was a nice way to live, but building so close to the water meant that the chances were greater you were going to get flooded or your house would be destroyed in a storm. If you are willing to pay for that in the form of higher premiums, I have no problem with that (and if you can’t afford to, then I’m sorry but owning beachfront property is not a human right). The problem comes when people expect others to subsidize their repairs and/or restrict the ability of insurance companies to charge them higher premiums based on their higher risk. At that point you create a situation where people in less desirable neighborhoods are effectively paying extra so that folks in good neighborhoods can keep their nice houses, which is not only unfair but also encourages more risky building.

  • “the big insurance providers don’t truly compete against one another on price.”

    I’ll only add that my actuary friends would be fascinated by this line of argument – and unemployed if it were accurate. A complaint about high housing insurance premiums is basically an argument that other people should be paying more to subsidize your residential choices; it’s nice when other people pay for stuff for you obviously, but it’s often unfair to them.

  • To be fair, there are those territories below sea level that most assuredly will suffer repeat disasters, where homes should never have been built in the first place.

    Those homes are not all the homes of the wealthy who want an ocean view, as view and Blackadder seem to suggest. Most of the homes affected are the homes of the poorer who are trying to be closer to the resources (fishing & oil) which the rest of the country depends upon.

    Is it really reasonable that billions of dollars be devoted to the rebuilding of homes, etc. in areas that will simply end up experiencing the same disasters all over again the following years?

    Unless you’d be happy to have the price of oil, fish, etc. factor in the increased cost of transportation for workers, then yes, it is. People rebuild in Tornado Alley all the time; the city of San Francisco and Los Angeles are begging to be destroyed by an earthquake, yet people only complain about New Orleans and Florida residents being selfish for wanting protection for insurance gouging.

  • Michael,

    I just don’t see the logic in committing billions of dollars to rebuilding efforts for homes built in territories below sea level since most assuredly (by nature) they’ll simply suffer the same catastrophes all over again the following year, with not only disasters wreaked on homes but lost of lives as well.

  • Unless you’d be happy to have the price of oil, fish, etc. factor in the increased cost of transportation for workers, then yes, it is…

    Is there any reason why these costs shouldn’t be factored in?

    People rebuild in Tornado Alley all the time; the city of San Francisco and Los Angeles are begging to be destroyed by an earthquake, yet people only complain about New Orleans and Florida residents being selfish for wanting protection for insurance gouging.

    So, are you suggesting that private insurance companies are acting irrationally? In other words, that they are either taking risks they shouldn’t be taking in San Francisco/LA/Tornado Alley or that they are irrationally conservative in protecting themselves from exposure in N.O. or FL? If so, it’s odd that you think you are better at predicting these things than the actuaries/etc. who do this full time. Maybe the difference is related to the actual risks involved…why do you think it isn’t?

  • With respect, earthquakes, while they do happen in places like Los Angeles and San Francisco, do not happen with such assured frequency as do those disasters wreaked in places located in territories below sea level which seem to occur almost annually, if not every other year.

  • People rebuild in Tornado Alley all the time.

    True enough. And as I said before, if people are willing to accept the costs of doing this is the form of increased premiums, I have no problem. That goes for people in Kansas and California and Texas and Florida and Louisiana and anywhere else.

  • I want to build a house on the edge of a live volcano that is currently covered with snow; I plan to build right beneath an enormous snow flurry that would turn into the world’s largest known avalanche upon the slightest disturbance. This is a very delicate operation. Unfortunately, insurance companies are so mean that they want me to pay higher rates. I demand that someone else subsidize my insurance. It’s only fair.

  • The bit about how the big home insurers don’t really compete on pricing was something that was concluded during the Florida Today sponsered forum with experts- it was the conclusion drawn by the chief investigative reporter and no one challenged it- so I used that line in my column to see if there was any denial from other sources from within the industry or elsewhere- no one wrote in or blogged in to dispute it- so I don’t know- I’m not privy to the insides of the big insurance companies any more than I am with Big Oil- but it certainly has been the case in Florida that all the majors that were here had similar rate hikes and also made a lot of money even after the hurricanes hit- and I compare this to oil companies who seem to arrive at similar prices and then also set record profits- it would seem that with all the profit margins someone would take a big price dip to gather in more customers- but it hasn’t happened- it is very hard to prove monopoly abuses, but certainly there can be many unspoken agreements to keep all the big players extremely profitable while the average consumer is left with little of no choice. In Florida we have had Citizens insurance which is the place of last resort, but the rules were drawn up that Citizens could NOT be priced lower than the private companies.

    Now I am not claiming that all areas should be developed for homes- there can certainly be discretion when deciding whether permits should be granted in the first place- or second place when homes are repeatedly hit by violent storms predictably.

    Wow- this whole blog has turned into an insurance deal- I’d like to see some application of the pope’s encyclical for my own edification- I want to reflect an authentic Catholic worldview that is my goal- so let’s not bog down into a single issue complaint that has more to do with Florida living and politics than with the bigger picture perhaps. Though I do think I hit on an issue that has many people upset and looking for the right solutions- all of us who are homeowners anyway.

  • it certainly has been the case in Florida that all the majors that were here had similar rate hikes and also made a lot of money even after the hurricanes hit- and I compare this to oil companies who seem to arrive at similar prices and then also set record profits- it would seem that with all the profit margins someone would take a big price dip to gather in more customers- but it hasn’t happened

    I don’t know much about how insurance companies operate in Florida, but the average profit on a gallon of gas is less than $.10. You’d think that if oil companies were colluding together to set prices they would set it higher than that (an alternate explanation for the similarity in prices is that there is very little to differentiate gasoline other than price, and comparing prices is fairly easy).

  • Tim:

    Sorry to have helped hijack the post; I do think what you said has a lot in common with the pope’s encyclical.

    S.B.

    You’re embarrassing yourself. Your example has nothing in common with the situation of a functioning and productive community that has existed for hundreds of years. Moving on.

    Blackadder

    True enough. And as I said before, if people are willing to accept the costs of doing this is the form of increased premiums, I have no problem. That goes for people in Kansas and California and Texas and Florida and Louisiana and anywhere else.

    Yes, but just b/c we should have increased premiums does not mean all increases are justified and all levels are justified. If tornado or earthquake rates got to the point or pricing out large sections of Tornado Alley or Los Angeles, I’d have a problem and would like to see the government step in.

    e.

    With respect, earthquakes, while they do happen in places like Los Angeles and San Francisco, do not happen with such assured frequency as do those disasters wreaked in places located in territories below sea level which seem to occur almost annually, if not every other year.

    I don’t think the frequency conceptions you have are accurate. New Orleans has been devastated by a hurricane so badly I think 3 times since 1900 (Katrina, Betsy, and what I think is the Labor Day hurricane in the 20s). That’s hardly “frequent.”

    One might argue that if global warming is created by human action, then the frequency is not the fault of location as the higher temperatures have led to higher hurricane numbers. One could also argue that the damage done has been increased the negligence of the farmers up north who allow the toxins in the fertilizer to drift down here and destroy our wetlands, which for centuries were natural barriers that minimized hurricane damages. These argues could say that the location has been made less suitable not due to the stupidity of the people of New Orleans but the actions of others.

    In short, I don’t think it’s terribly unfair for New Orleans to ask for help against price gouging from insurance hurricanes just b/c of their location.

    So, are you suggesting that private insurance companies are acting irrationally? In other words, that they are either taking risks they shouldn’t be taking in San Francisco/LA/Tornado Alley or that they are irrationally conservative in protecting themselves from exposure in N.O. or FL? If so, it’s odd that you think you are better at predicting these things than the actuaries/etc. who do this full time. Maybe the difference is related to the actual risks involved…why do you think it isn’t?

    Do I believe insurance companies are human and therefore can act irrationally and dare I say greedily? Let me think…YES!

    I mean, perhaps your actuaries are above sin but if they can figure out they can charge a much higher price and get away with it, even if it’s mostly just to increase their own wealth, then yes, I think they’ll do it.

    Companies acting greedily and needing regulation…it’s almost like I read that somewhere yesterday…something about Caritas in the title…

  • Michael — it’s just a reductio ad absurdum. The principle is the same, though, as the notion that people who choose to live in high-risk areas should have their insurance subsidized by folks elsewhere.

    For those of you calling for regulation: Are you aware of the existence of state insurance departments that already regulate rates and services quite thoroughly? For Florida, see http://www.floir.com/pcfr/is_pcpr_index.aspx and http://www.floir.com/pc/oir_pcfo_index.aspx

  • Do I believe insurance companies are human and therefore can act irrationally and dare I say greedily? Let me think…YES!

    I mean, perhaps your actuaries are above sin but if they can figure out they can charge a much higher price and get away with it, even if it’s mostly just to increase their own wealth, then yes, I think they’ll do it.

    Michael, that’s a silly distortion of my question. You are alleging insurance companies are acting irrationally: you’ve provided no evidence for this assertion, and, as far as I can tell, have no basis from which to make this determination other than you feel the premiums are too high. There are three interpretations of the fact of high premiums: 1) the insurance companies are right and you are wrong about the risk profile of the properties; 2) You are right, and they are mistaken – that N.O. is actually a wonderful haven of profit opportunity for a smart insurer who correctly evaluates the risk and prices out their competitors; 3) You are right, and the insurance companies know it; they are breaking the law, engaging in collusion, and overlooking a great opportunity for profit out of pure spite. You’ve selected option 3. Is there any particular reason why?

  • Why ascribe something to sin that might more readily be explained by probability? Just asking.

  • Michael,

    Trying not to focus on the insurance aspect here, but I wonder what you think of this. First let me say that I’m a big proponent of family and community, and of the common man being able to go about living his life. And not to seem cold hearted about the plight of those from New Orleans, but is it not a valid consideration that N.O. was an experiment that failed, that this is one part of nature that man shouldn’t try overcoming? I mean, do the people of Chernobyl have the right to demand that the region be scraped down 10 feet, the soil hauled out, and the city rebuilt? I don’t think there’s much difference, really. N.O. belongs just as much to the sea as it does the land. Perhaps society would have been better off letting her go.

    I have mixed thoughts on the matter, but i think it’s a valid consideration and if so, to what extent does the rest of society have an obligation to support it?

  • John Henry,

    Well said.

    Doesn’t option 3 seem highly unlikely given the scrutiny that state regulators place on insurance companies? If there is evidence of collusion, where is it? That’s a serious charge that requires more than “I just feel that premiums are too high.”

  • If tornado or earthquake rates got to the point or pricing out large sections of Tornado Alley or Los Angeles, I’d have a problem and would like to see the government step in.

    I’m not sure I get the logic here. Presumably you agree that there are some areas in which people just shouldn’t live because the costs of disasters that will befall people living there are too high. I would think that if the cost of insuring against such disaster in a particular place becomes prohibitively expensive for most people, that might be an indication that that place is in one of those areas.

    Do I believe insurance companies are human and therefore can act irrationally and dare I say greedily? Let me think…YES!

    There’s a difference between acting irrationally and acting greedily. Greed can’t explain why insurance companies would be undercharging people in California.

    To put it another way, my understanding is that while home insurance in Florida costs more than the national average, the cost of car insurance is not much higher than usual. Not only that, but in some cases it is the same companies selling the car and house insurance. It could be that these insurance companies are really greedy whenever they deal with house insurance but inexplicably become non-greedy when the subject turns to cars. But that seems unlikely. Another possibility is that the costs of insuring houses in Florida are just higher than average, and the higher insurance premiums are a reflection of that.

  • John Henry:

    You have no reason to assume that they are acting rationally yet you seem incredulous that I could postulate such a theory, so it’s not a distortion.

    Yet you assume that they are quite reasonable. I see I’ll have to go back and look up some numbers, but the fact is that insurance companies had lower rates and were making plenty of money in New Orleans long before Katrina. It’s the same city; the protections are even better than before. Heck, until Monday when the levee broke New Orleans was in the clear. The risk is the same, yet the prices are now sky high or inaccessible. I don’t think it’s that unreasonable to think that the insurance companies saw an excuse to do a price hike that isn’t entirely justified by need or risk.

    SB:

    It’s not a reduction ad absurdum, it’s a false analogy. As for the insurance departments, I’m well aware of them. Louisiana has a long history of commissioner department being bribed by the rational and innocent insurance companies and going to jail for it.

    Rick:

    While I appreciate your effort at being kind, there really isn’t a way to not be cold-hearted when telling someone their city should be in the sea. But I do appreciate the effort, so I’ll answer your question.

    There’s a MR-GO canal, a federal project pushed by shipping interests that ended up providing a canal right for the water to flow into New Orleans East. That is an example of man not respecting nature, as is some of the projects that have damaged the wetlands. So man’s arrogance plays a part, but that does not mean NO is a failed experiment. NO has survived the British, fires, and hurricanes before. Other cities have been rebuilt before. They have been rebuilt

    1) b/c lessons were learned to help ward off the impact of future disasters. This is true in this case. The MR-GO is being closed and filled, more effort is trying to put into wetland conservation (LA had negotiate hard to get money from LA oil revenue that the feds were taking to pay for it, speaking of things that are not LA’s fault, but that’s another issue), the levees were rebuilt, homes in flood-prone areas are being raised. The levees have been restored and we’re looking into ways to further improve them.

    2) A city, especially New Orleans, cannot be replaced. It would be a great loss to the US if New Orleans is lost. Not only does it represent a different culture from anywhere in the US (part of why it’s maltreated as opposed to say Miami, which is in an even dumber spot), it represents a valuable culture. Especially for Catholics: how many other cities point to a cathedral as its main monument? Sure, Mardi gras has gotten out of hand but there is a rich Catholic culture here, one that preserves many things that ought to be preserved. Whether it’s London, Chicago, or Los Angeles, losing a city means losing a lot. Of course, I haven’t even begun to discuss the impacts on the economy losing NO would have. From the oil fields largely serviced by headquarters in NO to the shipping from the Mississippi, etc. NO is a valuable asset. Thomas Jefferson seemed to think so, at least.

    So yeah, I don’t think it’s a given that NO belongs to the sea.

  • Blackadder:

    You’re putting me in false position. I’m not arguing that NO rates shouldn’t be higher than other places; I’m saying that they’re too high.

    As far as insurance departments, 1) we have Republicans in office who is they want higher office try to look good big-business and 2) insurance companies threaten to leave the state, in which case LA has to take over insurance coverage. Maybe I’m not conservative enough for most of you, but I’d rather State Farm than the state of Louisiana be my insurance provider.

    In all, I don’t think many of you quite comprehend the scope of what we’re talking about. We’re not talking about some beachfront homes here; look up a map of New Orleans and see how large it is. 500,000 people before Katrina in new Orleans alone; 1.3 in the metro area I believe. Moving does not mean moving a mile or two to higher ground; moving means an hour away if you’re lucky. That you guys can’t understand or even try to sympathize that is amazing for a group of so-called Catholics who claim to practice charity.

  • So the regulators are not to be trusted, then. Therefore what we need is… more regulation?

  • P.S. to Blackadder:

    There’s a difference between acting irrationally and acting greedily.

    To sin is irrational according to Catholic conceptions of reason, therefore greed is irrational and in fact in long-term situations undermines the economic good. See Caritas in Veritate for details.

  • j. christian:

    we need stronger ethics codes which oh by the way Bobby Jindal got done last year while Palin was out looking at Russia from her house.

    Besides, I didn’t ask for another layer of bureaucracy; I’m not a liberal. I just want the people to do the jobs they have now.

  • Michael,

    A couple of points.

    First, if you want people’s sympathy, I’m not sure calling them “so-called Catholics” is a good strategy.

    Second, all greed may be irrational but not all irrationality is greed. In particular, if an insurance company is undercharging people in California, that may be irrational, but it’s hard to argue it’s motivated by greed.

    Third, you say that you’re fine with people being charged higher premiums based on risk but that the rates in New Orleans are too high. Okay. But so far as I’ve seen, you’ve offered no reason for thinking that this is so. Personally I have no idea how high a premium for a house in New Orleans should be. I know nothing about the costs, probabilities, or other factors that are involved. I do know, however, that the insurance companies employ people who do know about such things, and whose job it is to calculate how much a given policy is expected to cost. I also know that, if the calculations turn out to be wrong, the insurance companies stand to lose a whole lot of money. I’m therefore inclined to think that the market rate for insurance is about what it should be absent some reason to think otherwise (greed, you’ll note, is not a reason as it should make a company more desirous of getting the calculations right, not less).

  • The insurance rates on New Orelans are a issue. Sadly too many people see the area of New Orelans as the French Quarter and notheing more. It is a major port and is large part the start of the working Coast that stretches across Louisiana. When I say working Coast I am talking the fact that much of MAerica Seafoold inhustry, transport, and oli and gas needs are met by people that have to live on it. Itr can’t be done by robots.

    Louisina folks including those in New Orleans contribute much to the Economic and National Security of the United States. I hope this problem is dealt with

  • “I just don’t see the logic in committing billions of dollars to rebuilding efforts for homes built in territories below sea level since most assuredly (by nature) they’ll simply suffer the same catastrophes all over again the following year, with not only disasters wreaked on homes but lost of lives as well.”

    Most people do not relaize this but a nice boit of New Orelans is not belwo sea level. That being said this a working Coast

    THe consern should be immediate massive intervention to save the Coast which if not is going to be a huge econolic and ecological disaster for the nation

  • Blackadder:

    First, so called Catholics is a fairly gentle term for what was going through my mind, but I shouldn’t have said it. Regardless, I do not think it is a stretch to say that the indifference towards mass amounts of people having to uproot themselves does not show a strong Catholic example

    Second, allright, let’s give you a number. http://www.usatoday.com/money/economy/housing/closetohome/2007-10-29-new-orleans-housing_N.htm

    For a $175,000 home, a buyer will have to shell out $4,200 to $4,800 a year for insurance, says Lisa Heindel, an agent at Latter & Blum Realtors. Before the hurricane, the cost was about $1,200 annually.

    I believe Texas was around 1,000 for insurance.

    Maybe I’m crazy, but did the risk really triple or quadruple after the storm? Is is possible, just possible that the insurance companies took advantage of situation to make money?

    One course, one could ask if the rate changed so much and they’re right now, how they could screw up so badly before the storm? Maybe in fact, the market forces don’t quite work out all the time.

  • “After all, the people in Louisiana and Florida often live so close “to the sand” in order to provide oil for Texan Suburbans and shipping portals for Midwestern farmers. Louisiana gladly subsidizes other states when they have an emergency and it’s not unreasonable to expect the same kindness. ”

    Michael he hit ot right on the nose. FOr all the talk of environemnt Louisiana is rarely mentioned. And don’t get me started on the idiotic Corp of Engineers that drives me insane.

    Much of the flooding we can lay right at their feet. The Nation is served by things like the Intracoastal Canal which has a had side effect of tearing up the wetlands which has increased flooding. But the nations shipping sinterest still go through it while people go why do yall folks live down there

  • I’ll confess to not having followed this whole thread in detail, this having been a busy day, but the following two thoughts might be useful in regards to the discussion of homeowners insurance:

    – Speaking as a Los Angeles native: After the Northridge quake in the mid 90s, a lot of homeowners insurance companies operating in California dropped nearly all earthquake coverage and offer separate earthquake coverage at additional cost (if they offer it at all.) This means that many Californians are sitting on a potential economic time bomb.

    – As someone who deals with statistics at work all the time: the fact of the matter is that we are not nearly as good at predicting infrequent events as we think we are. Even now, with three data points in the last century, the fact of the matter is that insurance companies do not have a very good idea whether they are over or under charging for homeowners insurance in LA. They took a major bath with Katrina, and they’re hoping that they have it right now, but they really don’t know.

    – If you think about what insurance is, it’s a promise to replace a home and its contents. So insuring a 175k home is a promise to replace up to 200k in total value of house and possessions. So if it’s being priced at 4k per year, that means that the insurance company is betting they’d have to pay out roughly once every fifty years on average.

  • Somewhere out there is my lost posting! I do think this insurance discussion is a good one- it shows that there are many things to consider- the business end, the homeowner’s ability to pay for insurance, the profits of companies, the role of regulators, the development question in areas where nature is often very destructive, and the overall morality for all of those involved in these sorts of transactions, with the common good the ultimate focal point for Catholics and all people of good will.

  • “After all, the people in Louisiana and Florida often live so close “to the sand” in order to provide oil for Texan Suburbans

    What world do you live in? There is no oil or gas pipelines that flow into Texas from NO. We have plenty of oil and gas here thank you very much. Our workers live close to the cost, but mostly not on Galveston Island.

    Louisiana gladly subsidizes other states when they have an emergency and it’s not unreasonable to expect the same kindness. ”

    Yes, and, you may or may not recall it, but those Texans you’re dissin sent more of it then just about anyone else. We took the homeless in with deep generosity.

    The problem with New Orleans (and Louisiana) go way beyond being a bowl that wants to fill with water. It is deeply corrupt (though much improved of late). That’s the real reason that so many died, and so much was lost. Your mayor failed to act in evacuating his people, and so many were stranded, and all the buses destroyed. The governor failed to call in the necessary resources and grant authority to bring in the federal resources being offered. Many policeman deserted, some became looters, and not a few turned out to be not real at all, just a way for some corrupt individual to collect their paycheck.

    Before you respond. None of the corruption is by the hard workers in the oil, shipping and fishery industries, but they take some blame for continuing to put up with the problem.

    ps. who was that congressmen who had a freezer full of cash, and STILL got re-elected in LA?

  • t is deeply corrupt (though much improved of late). That’s the real reason that so many died, and so much was lost. Your mayor failed to act in evacuating his people, and so many were stranded, and all the buses destroyed. The governor failed to call in the necessary resources and grant authority to bring in the federal resources being offered. Many policeman deserted, some became looters, and not a few turned out to be not real at all, just a way for some corrupt individual to collect their paycheck.

    I would differ with you on the state of the police force (most did stay, there were a few who committed suicide, sadly). I think being abandoned in the middle of a natural disaster zone with precious few resources is a tremendously tall order, and while there were lessons learned I think most New Orleanians came away with a better view of the force overall.

    On the government side, while the buses was a terrible decision, just think about how much experience people have with evacuating entire cities. Something is bound to go wrong. Additionally, a lot of people just don’t leave. They don’t want to. They’d rather wait it out, despite warnings.

    The government should have been better, I’d agree.

    To your ps: William Jefferson, who was re-elected primarily b/c all the Republicans voted for him instead of his rabidly pro-abortion opponent. Of course, he was ousted in 2008 for Catholic Congressman Cao and his trial is happening right now I believe.

  • most did stay

    granted, and good for those who did! That, nor anything else you said disagrees with what I said.

  • For a $175,000 home, a buyer will have to shell out $4,200 to $4,800 a year for insurance, says Lisa Heindel, an agent at Latter & Blum Realtors. Before the hurricane, the cost was about $1,200 annually.

    Maybe I’m crazy, but did the risk really triple or quadruple after the storm? Is is possible, just possible that the insurance companies took advantage of situation to make money?

    Why is it hard to believe that would have gone up this much? Katrina, after all, was a fairly major event.

    Insurance companies are in the business of making money. If they aren’t constrained by things like competition or supply and demand in setting their rates, then why weren’t they charging four grand for a policy before the storm? If an insurance company could make money selling policies at a rate most people are willing and able to pay, why would they set rates at a level most people are unwilling and unable to pay? Why, in fact, would companies be refusing to write new policies in certain areas at all, regardless of price? If there motive is making money, then that doesn’t make much sense. You don’t make money by pricing all your customers out of the market. The idea that all the insurance companies would do this, and that no company would step in and offer lower rates to get these potential customers, is just implausible. Saying that the insurance companies are greedy and only care about making money makes it more implausible, not less.

  • the insurance company is betting they’d have to pay out roughly once every fifty years

    Thanks for the von Neumann-Morgenstern napkin calculation, Darwin. Very good point; this would be the “actuarially fair” zero profit premium, of course. And how many hurricanes have hit New Orleans in recorded memory? Three or four since the Louisiana purchase? Sounds like the new rates are probably closer to reality.

  • I have some differing views on the matter I suppose.

    I need food, water, and access to shelter. eating beens drinking well water and living in a shanty is sufficient to meet all of my needs. i don’t “need” electricity or a vehicle, unless I live real far from my job. and if my shanty gets blown over by a hurricane I can rebuild it out of my own pocket probably.

4 Responses to Guest Post: The Church, Advertising and the Junk We Don't Need

  • I am interested in commenting on this more extensively, but I have too much to get done today. For now, consider what Benedict wrote in Caritas Veritate:

    “A link has often been noted between claims to a “right to excess”, and even to transgression and vice, within affluent societies, and the lack of food, drinkable water, basic instruction and elementary health care in areas of the underdeveloped world and on the outskirts of large metropolitan centres. The link consists in this: individual rights, when detached from a framework of duties which grants them their full meaning, can run wild, leading to an escalation of demands which is effectively unlimited and indiscriminate.”

    I would argue that advertising often does exacerbate this situation.

    I would also note that, like practically every other economic phenomenon, advertising can be used for good. Ethics in Advertising makes that point and so does Benedict.

  • Today is a crazy day for me between work and the new encylical… I have a feeling the libertarian blogs are going to freak.

    I’ve only read the opening, but so far I have a ton of questions about Caritas in Veritate…

  • Interesting topic—great post. Thank you!

  • I am reminded of when anti-smoking ads were on t.v. From what I remember (cloudy at best) was that these ads helped _reduce_ smoking in the general population. But when government outlawed cigarette ads on t.v. they had to pull the anti-smoking ads as well. Of course, they are teaching that smoking is unhealthy at schools now, but I remember how clever those ads on t.v. were.

    What if government could make those “public service” ads regarding saving, looking for quality rather than buying “by name”, and other “ethical” ads combating the advertisements of cheap/unwholesome goods? Or perhaps consumer groups (like Consumer Reports, Nadar’s consumer protection agency?) could start an “ad branch” and make advertisements with similar goals.

6 Responses to The Problem of Plenty

  • Darwin,

    You are hitting upon a problem that is a major theme of my own social thinking – the problems of abundance and technological advance. I’ll take this opportunity to plug my essay again.

    http://www.geocities.com/joeahargrave/consumerism.html

    “Surely, no one consciously thinks, “I have a good job and a house, so it doesn’t really matter if I tell off my cousin whose wife I can’t stand and stop visiting my grandmother who always lectures me about how I live my life,” but the fact of abundance makes the lessening of these ties more possible.”

    I wouldn’t be so surprised if there were people who DID think these things consciously, however.

    I believe there is a direct link between the consumerist revolution of the 1950s and the sexual revolution of the late 1960s.

    I plan on writing much more about this topic in general in the future. For now I think we have to keep in mind, as well, that the current and previous Popes have called on people living in wealthy nations to “moderate their lifestyles” for the sake of those living poor nations, and have condemned modern consumer culture, which frequently does little else but relentlessly appeal to our lower natures for profit.

  • I wouldn’t be so surprised if there were people who DID think these things consciously, however.

    Well, you may be right, though I’d think often it happens in a backwards sort of way. For instance, in Victorian novels (a form for which I have a certain weakness) one runs into many people who would gladly tell off Old Aunt So-and-so, if only it weren’t so essential to suck up to her because of the inheritance. At that point, I would imagine there’s already little virtue to the observances to community which are paid, since they’re done for the wrong reasons, and so it is but a short step from there to people who find themselves in an income-based rather than inheritance-based economy feeling much more free to ignore people they don’t life — whether it be in the family or the neighborhood.

    I’m not really sure how one gets around this. Christ often warns us of the dangers that wealth represents to the soul. I would think this is because wealth gives people more ability to sin without material repercussions — and people being what they are, temptation often leads to sin.

    Yet at the same time, not only does it seem an odd humanitarian approach (arguably antithetical to the common good) to wish everyone back into relative poverty, but it wouldn’t work anyway. Given the ability to be so astoundingly productive on a historic scale, the number of people who are seriously willing to say, “I could easily work at a job and make enough money to provide my family with a house, two cars, air conditioning, a TV, a computer, a few hundred books, and an annual vacation — but instead I think I’ll forgo that to share my parents’ two room house until they die and do subsistence farming with no electricity or vehicles because that will require me to exercise greater familial solidarity” is vanishingly small. The only people who seem to have any success with this are the most cloistered monastics and the most serious Amish.

    Which is, I think, why the Church is right to focus on the importance of each individual person acting morally within the situation he finds himself, rather than trying to describe some sort of ideal economic/social system.

    Though I must admit, I do have a certain admiration for the Amish in this regard, though I would not by any means choose to follow their example.

  • Darwin,

    I just don’t think it is fair to jump from the call of the Papacy for us to moderate our lifestyles to the conclusion that this means we must return to material poverty.

    I think we both agree that there is excessive consumption in America. Do we need 50 different fast food chains? Do we need Hummers? Do we need, for that matter, millions of pronographic websites? Of course not. But there is a “demand” for these things, and in an amoral market philosophy, that means someone also can and probably should produce and sell them.

    To moderate our lifestyles means to cut down the excesses and to share the surplus with those who don’t have one. I favor direct, social investment and distributist policies as opposed to mere wealth spreading. But even so, I do believe that there has to be a redistribution.

    It also means to take a firmer stand against amoral consumerism, against the ceaseless appeals made to our lower nature, to our violent, lustful, selfish desires. Just because something is marketable should not make it socially acceptable. Nothing bothers me more than those who peddle poison, especially to the children of overworked parents, under the protection of some misguided notion of “liberty”. That which is destructive of the higher self, and of society, is ultimately destructive of true liberty, freedom from sin and vice.

    Finally, the Church may not have an “ideal system” but it has been consistent in its support for the distribution of property and decision making power to more workers, the decentralization of vast sums of concentrated wealth, and now as we see, the financial system that has become detached from the production of real value and the satisfaction of real needs.

  • Joe,

    In these discussions of excessive consumerism, there is always the problem of ascribing moral agency to macro outcomes that are based on micro decisions. To use the fast food example: No, maybe no one needs 50 different fast food outlets, but say I stop at one once because I’m hungry and there’s nothing else around; am I part of the problem? Have I been “consuming excessively” even if it’s a one-time thing? Then multiply my personal decision by 500 every day, and you can see how these relatively simple decisions can be made without much of a moral dimension behind them. (I suspect Darwin might express this better, knowing that he works with data. Individual data points have ways of aggregating into distributions, and these distributions have little to do with moral agency. Things that are black and white to an individual become smooth curves when grouped with millions of other people…)

    What would shape the morality of every little choice I make about my consumption? Does this business make its products with child labor in China? Are they clearing rainforest for grazing land? Do they give to Planned Parenthood? There might be obvious cases to avoid, but to process all that information about each and every decision is daunting, to say the least. We certainly try to avoid cooperating with evil, but when the “evil” becomes so attenuated, how do we act? And even if none of these circumstances existed, what is morally objectionable about it? When does consumption become excessive? When I do it, it’s not, but when a million people do it, it is?

    I’m not an expert on Catholic teaching on this subject, but it seems that, when it comes to the individual (and that is where the moral agency matters, after all), one’s soul can be disposed toward consumption as an end or a means. I *think* I know the difference when I see it, but there’s an element of subjectivity there. I try to be charitable to the relatives who gave their daughter a Mercedes when she turned 16, but I’ve got this inkling that something’s a little disordered there… Want vs. need, how do we know? Maybe the answer isn’t “Live Amish,” but is it Amish Lite? How far down do we go???

  • To be clear: It’s not that I think we should return to material poverty. I don’t. It’s just that I think so long as we don’t return to material poverty, people will continue to have the option of falling into excessive consumption (and the various personal and social evils that permits) and people being what they are, as long as they have the option they often will.

    Now, there’s stuff like pornography which I’d like to see legally stamped out to the greatest extent possible (which in the world of the internet may still not be very much) but it strikes me that with some of these other things it’s hard to do anything at a wider level — what we really need is for people to change the way they think about life and material wants. (Realistically, that’s the only way to really get rid of porn either — but one can at least try to use the arm of the law there as well.)

    So for instance, I wouldn’t see it as a problem that there be fifty fast food chains. I’m all for variety. Heck, I’d enjoy it even more if we mostly had individual fast food places that weren’t chains. (And if Bangalore Express and Kabobs-To-Go would open up right down the street from where I work!) But the problem in regards to health and consumption is when people fall back on these places too often, spending too much of their money on it and eating too much cheap junk instead of “real food”.

    What bothers me is not necessarily the overall trend of huge numbers of fast food joints, so much as the fact that behind that overall trend often hide individual data points of people who feed their kids a double stack, a large fries and a 42oz drink three or four times a week. Not only is that bad for the kid’s health, but it in turn may mask a breakdown in family life where people aren’t taking (or having) the time to cook real food for each other.

  • J,

    I think we are victims of consumerism as much as we are perpetrators. Yes, its true – they will keep making it as long as we keep buying it. But at a certain point, you cut the addict off. And I include myself in all this.

    It is the producers and promoters of excessive consumer goods that are primarily to blame. But it is also our responsibility to develop alternatives – alternative lifestyles and communities where we regulate what goes in and out of them. Ave Maria town was a promising idea but I don’t think its launched escaped the gravitational pull of consumerism. Part of that is because of the stinking ACLU, which threatened legal action if the town banned pornography (as if it were a damned constitutional right). But part if it is also the shallowness of its ideological underpinnings and the extent to which it still looks like any other American suburb, which is to say, laden with excessive consumerism.

    Want versus Need: we MUST know. People in Canada and Europe live on less than we do, and people in other countries on even less than them. I think it would be just… wrong to deny that many Americans believe they have a right not to as much as they need, but as much as they can theoretically consume.

5 Responses to Catholic View of the Political Community (Part 3)

  • I think the Catechism deals with the question of patriotism vs. what you call “My Country Right or Wrong abuse of patriotism”. The Catechism would call the latter nationalism. Patriotism itself is seen as a reflection of the virtue of justice as as such a proper duty for each person.

  • No argument there. Patriotism is a good thing, but is soured when it begins the process of excusing/overlooking/or outright supporting moral evils or lackings in a given nation. I use the term patriotism more than nationalism because most Americans are unfamiliar with the term nationalism to describe things here in the U.S., and find it convenient to hide behind the term- patriotism- as if you couldn’t go wrong being patriotic even to the extreme. What is that old saying- patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels- or something like that. I see this sort of thing in the drumbeat to war- in the debate on how best to “Support the Troops”. I will write a future article on my own decision to join the military in the early 80’s, and how my thinking goes today. Patriotism is something that we can all relate to, and it is a great discussion to have among serious Catholics. We don’t want to fall into the Zealots camp anymore than we want to become likened to the Pharisees- both missed Jesus bigtime!

  • C.S. Lewis in “The Four Loves” discusses the various types of love of country. To summarize what he said — which I have found very helpful — patriotism exists on several levels.

    At its most basic it is simply an attachment to your home and culture, to the things you grew up with (food, music, holidays, landscape, etc.) This type of patriotism, Lewis says, is usually not at all aggressive, but simply wants to be left alone, and respects other people’s right to enjoy their “homes” equally. I suspect that for many Americans, this kind of patriotism attaches to their home state or city as well as to their country.

    Another type of patriotism is pride in the legendary or iconic deeds and words of the country’s heroes and founders (e.g. the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving, Washington chopping down the cherry tree, Old West cowboys). Lewis says there is nothing wrong with this kind of patriotism or pride in one’s country, but it should NOT be confused with the actual, factual history of one’s country, which has to include the bad as well as the good.

    The last and potentially most dangerous form of patriotism is the belief that one’s country is inherently superior to all others. Attempting to remake other countries in the image of one’s own can be done aggressively through war, or commercially through colonization, or in more subtle ways. It is this kind of patriotism that corresponds most closely with “nationalism” in the sense that the Catechism uses.

  • Right on elaine- I have absorbed a lot of C.S. Lewis over the years- I really like the above description- thanks

  • Tim,

    Back from Father’s Day weekend. It may be that Americans may confuse the term but perhaps that is that it has not been used with them. Given that we are seeking to form the basis of the conversation for understanding political community it would also be good to start with proper terms. I agree with Elaine that C.S. Lewis has good insight to this though again it would be good to distinguish the terms. I find most Americans capable of learning this even given the status of Public Education. As for the Zeolots/Pharisees and Nationalism see:

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11789b.htm

    Since we are trying to understand the political community I would also say that we do not think of Jesus in terms of “revolution.” Such a term has political implications all its own. Redemption is I believe a better Catholic starting point.

4 Responses to Catholic View of the Political Community

  • “10 Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle [b] and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

    19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” ”

    I’d say that the warnings about Kingship (Government), are some of the more accurate prophecies in the Bible.

  • Belloc however noted that the president of the U.S. acted as a prince [his word for the executive] and the country was thus spared the corruption and weakness of parliaments.

  • This may be rather more of a libertarian reading than you were thinking of — but one of the things that had always struck me about the list of evils surrounding having a king (which Donald quotes above) is that it underlines the trade off which communities make as they move from a society of direct personal relationships, to one of rulers, to one of laws.

    There is no state of primordial social goodness, in that humans as we know them are fallen creatures drawn to take advantage of others, but in the most basic organizational level of society we see people interacting with each other as people with direct relationships. However, in order to martial the centralized resources to achieve a certain level of power and prestige, a society must establish some sort of ruling power — which in turn is invariably abused to some extent.

    Those weilding power (whether kings or legislatures) are always capable of doing things that increase the common good — but also capable of either bumbling or actively abusing. There is, thus, a constant search for balance, whether to give more power to the ruler[s] so that they may try to improve society, or restrict their power to curtail their ability to harm society.

  • A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.

    Gerald Ford

16 Responses to Importance of Natural Law

  • Tim

    I am not sure drawing some fire is accurate. I think the prior threads were dealing with must there be a Natural Law interpretation of the Const via a Catholic Judge.

    As I stated before I would like to see a robust Natural Law Jurisprudence. However I think you are putting too much on the Judical branch. What about the legislative branch where laws are made. No doubt there were anti slavery Judges. But they did not think they could outlaw slavery by Judicial fiat because their power and authority came by this compromise.

    The Supreme Court is the weakest branch. They have no power to tax and no armies to enforce their rulings. They must have the integrity of their work to make their rulings have a binding force.

    I read Rice’s book soon after I converted and it was great. It should be noted that the main guy that was attacking Thomas on this at the time is now our current Catholic Vice President. It should also be noted that on the “right” that the little toad Damon Linker that got a job at First Things has declared over and over in his book and in his forum at New Republic that Nehaus and others were trying to do a Catholic Theocracy through the back door through “natural law”.

    It has been on the most part Evangelicals I hate to say that have been saying that was silliness. Many Catholics because Neuhaus had the sin of liking Republicans have been silent and just yell chareges of NEO CON.

    I am all for Natural Law jurisprudence and I think it is happening. But there must be a very much big defense of it. That is not happening. The Thomas heraing were a great example of it. I watched that non stop. THe Catholic Church was largely AWOL. Maybe because he was a Bush Choice.

    THe point is if you want a Natural Law viewpoint then go to the legislature. If we know anything about this court whether conservative or liberal they give the legislative branch the benefit of the doubt 9 times out of ten. And that goes for the most conservative of Justices

  • Last summer I heard a talk by one of America’s most noted writers on Catholic social teachings in which he claimed that these teachings have never been codified in a systematic way. When I asked him about the Compendium, he brushed off the question with “Well, I suppose.” But in fact, his work never cites the Compendium.

    I suspect the problem is the organizational pattern of the Compendium which, following Gaudium et spes, puts family life before political and economic issues and argues that the natural family, founded on marriage, is the essential basis for a just social order. Too many Catholics who claim to favor social justice seem to reject that principle as out of keeping with modern life.

  • While natural law is true and is written on the hearts of me, the hearts of men are imperfect even assuming only the noblest of intentions. Thus, the discernment of natural law must be subject to a process with assigned responisbilities, lest it be determined simply by the strongest. In a constitutional federal republic that task is assigned to legislators, not judges. Judges who make decisions based on their understanding of natural law at the expense of the positive laws made by legislators are acting themselves as lawmakers and thereby usurping that function. Under the US system of governance and justice, it is the role of voting citizens to elect representatives who they believe are skilled at discerning natural law such that positive law can reflect natural law as much as humanly possible. Empowering judges to act as lawmakers is not only inimical to our system of government, it greatly limits the power of a citizen to work to ensure that natural law prevails through the legislative process. Roe v. Wade is a vital example. Judges, by ignoring positive law (the plain text of our Constitution), made horribly bad law and thereby removed from the people and their elected representatives the practical power to correct it. Natural law is a vital part of Catholic teaching, but the discernment process largely rests with voters and their elected representatives, not judges.

  • As usual, I will merely say put me down for what Mike Petrik said!

  • ron,

    I think many of our fellow Catholics don’t hold much for viewing the family as the foundational unit of society. Chalk that up to divorce and contraception.

    I think the central “problem” of CST is that much of it is influenced by current economic and sociological thinking. John Paul notes this in I believe Solicitudo Rei Socialis. Thus there are the limits on infallibility that the Compendium itself notes in its preface. However some take the Compendium as an infallible program for all of society.

  • Well- I don’t think you can sidestep the moral responsibility of Judges with the dodge that American law is set up for legislative action, not judicial. The Magisterium speaks over and over for a just juridical framework to guarantee as best we can the common good- to include even the global economy. The Church is far more in favor of international law for example than most of those I hear who are self-described “conservatives”. I really believe that those who ignore such things as the Compendium are really just the flip side of the liberal dissidents who ignore the Hierarchy and the social doctrine when it becomes inconvenient. The Left will trot out the popes when the subject is war, but then ignore or belittle the significanse of the popes when the subject turns to sexuality, for example. The Right likes to try to collapse the terms “conservative” and “orthodox”, but it seems that many such Catholics usually resort to the prudential judgment line, or they belittle the importance of such things as the Compendium because I believe any serious reading of the entire social doctrine will not make “conservatives” sleep easy at night if they are indeed going around claiming orthodoxy and conservatism simultaneously.

    I don’t think you can read what the Compendium says about the essential need to base our communities and legal systems on natural law reasoning- and then go ahead and claim that well yes, but this isn’t necessary to include our Judges or Supreme Court in all of this. You must be saying that the Catholic social doctrine is wrong because I don’t find that kind of wiggle room in the official documents. The Judges have always been on the hook since Old Testament days- basic justice gentlemen- don’t hide behind American Federalism- that is a Pontius Pilate strategy. I point to the Compendium as an orthodox Catholic, not as a liberal or conservative, how can any orthodox Catholic ignore something that is authoritative and not so vague as many would like to claim? It reminds me of a question I often ask of my students- which label is more important to you- American or Catholic? I know a lot of Catholics want to be successful in this world, they want to find a way to have it both ways- even in politics and law. Scalia, Thomas, Bork et al feel confident they have found a way to be good Catholics, but leave that Catholicity at home when they go to work as Supreme Court Justices- I wouldn’t take that bet, not with my eternal soul. Catholic justices should not recuse themselves on important issues, but they shouldn’t deny the political implications of being Catholic, anymore than Catholic politicians of the Left or Right should. This is the central problem as to why our American Church is in such disarray, with two petty warring liberal and conservative little camps grabbing for power and attention in the mass media and big time politics. I think it is time to be truly faithful to the Magisterium and the official teachings, and let the chips fall, let the persecutions happen, and just find a way to support our large families, and keep growing our numbers and influence.

    If something is taught by the ordinary Magisterium then there is an obligation of religious assent, one should never openly disregard or publicly negate that teaching.

  • Tim, you really haven’t offered a concrete way for Catholic Judges to approach the issues and apply the natural law. You dodged my questions about homosexual actions and contraceptive use. Is a judge simply to disregard the Constitution and apply simply his or her own conception of the natural law, even if said conception may in fact be out of whack with the natural law? Non-Catholic Justices may believe that the 9th Amendment is a grant of natural law, and as such may feel inclined to uphold abortion rights as being a part of the natural law.

    As Mike alluded to above, our conceptions of the natural law are hardly uniform, even amongst Catholics. The Constitution, while admitting of various interpretations itself, is still a concrete written law visible to all. Where is the justice in submitting our Constitutional rights to the hands of nine Judges, whose conception of the natural law may differ mightily from mine? My legal recourse is much more limited when I’m basically trusting that the Justice is well-trained philosophically and theologically.

    Now, again, it’s true that we can have differing interpretations of the constitutional text, but that is a clearly written text that admits of less ambiguity (unless your William O. Douglas, and the thing means whatever you think it means).

    Your rhetoric is also fairly insulting in its implication that anyone who doesn’t exactly see the issue exactly as you do is, in a sense, heretical and opposed to the Magisterium. No, we just don’t see the Compendium as an affirmative grant that judicial bodies should ignore the written text of the law. Furthermore, it’s not a dodge to say that the focus of our attention should be on the legislative branch. I think our focus on the Courts is rather unfortunate. We should not constantly seek the Court as a last refuge against an out-of-control legislative branch.

  • Tim,
    You are simply ignoring the importance of process. It is true that CST requires that societies adopt legal frameworks that are in accord with natural law, but in the end we still need to determine who gets to decide. Under our system that responsibility rests with the legislatures representing the citizenry, not judges. One might create a system under which judges made laws in accordance with their natural law discernments, but that is not our system. For example, judges could just consider their understanding of natural law as a kind of super-constitution under which all other laws must yield. While certainly not the system envisioned by our nation’s founders, including the constitution’s framers, it could be done. I think, however, you would be appalled at the result. Think Roe.
    In any event, the decision as to where lawmaking responsibility (and the corresponding responsiblity to ensure that such laws are in keeping with natural law) is a prudential matter, with the most important prudential question being which system is most likely to yield good and just laws in the long run. You may disagree with my prudential application (and also the view of most principled legal scholars), and that is your right. But it is not a dodge, and I resent the accusation.

  • I meant to type “… the decision as to where lawmaking responsiblity (and the corresponding responsiblity to ensure that such laws are in keeping with natural law) *should best rest* is a prudential matter, ….”

  • Originalism *has* to include Natural Law, since Natural Law is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and in the Bill of Rights.

    The question is whether the Natural Law is enforced at the state or federal level. For example, the 14th Amendment guarantees that the right to life cannot be taken away without due process.

    However, murder is not a federal offense. The federal government’s job is to make sure the states are following Natural Law.

  • I think the thing to keep in mind here, Tim, is the difficulties of application in a real-world mass society with a diverse citizenry.

    In our modern world, with only 20% of US citizens even claiming to be Catholic (and fewer still thinking with the Church in any meaningful sense), clearly a lot of people would be making flawed assessments of what natural law is. The concept of positive law and it’s place in liberal democracy is based on acknowledging this doubt and attempting to work around it in such a way as to injure or outrage the fewest people possible. Rather than having every judgement be the result solely of the presiding judge’s personal understanding of what natural law demands, our system of government requires that citizens and the legislators they elect hash out what they believe to be justice, and then pass positive laws reflecting whatever compromise they reach. Judges are then required to apply those laws to individual circumstances — but not to ignore the laws, even if those laws violate their own ideas of justice.

    On the one hand, it’s very tempting to say, “If a judge has the power to right an injustice, why should he let the law stop him?” On the other, if we dispense with law entirely and simply rely upon judges to make the most just ruling in each circumstance (in effect, reverting to a village-wise-man order of society) we can still be sure that justice will not be done most of the time (because judges will frequently err in discerning the moral law) but not it will err in an unpredictable fashion that we have no ability to change.

    Essentially, the positive law compromise is one of admitting that not every judgement will be just, but giving the citizenry a means for bringing the positive law closer in tune with the natural law if only they can agree to do so. The other approach gives no means to the citizenry for bringing judgements more in tune with the natural law, but puts all reliance on the personal discernment of the judges.

  • Tim,

    First, while the Church teaches that men through the natural law can know right, there is no official Church teaching on exactly how natural law works in a speculative or practical way (see Rice 50 Questions on Natural Law #35)

    Second, not all teachings in the Compendium take part in the ordinary Magisterium. The quote from the introduction to the Compendium is:

    “In studying this Compendium, it is good to keep in mind that the citations of Magisterial texts are taken from documents of differing authority. Alongside council documents and encyclicals there are also papal addresses and documents drafted by offices of the Holy See. As one knows, but it seems to bear repeating, the reader should be aware that different levels of teaching authority are involved.”

    As there are differing levels of teaching authority (not all of the ordinary Magisterium) there will certainly be some where there can be legitimate questions by faithful Catholics.

  • Gentlemen- my goal is to get everyone reading from the same page so to speak- I understand that natural law interpretations can get a bit messy- in private life as well as public- but we must acknowledge natural law reality and the duty we have to attempt to discern the basic justice in every situation. If something gets to the Supreme Court then I expect the Justices to deal with it if there is a basic injustice exposed- recall how the Supreme Court “ocnservatives” established that the Gore/Bush election was a one time deal, not something to set a new “doctrine”- they took all the information into account I assume and rendered a decision based on a common sense of justice and what was for the common good.

    I don’t mean to insult anyone here- but I do think that all outspoken political Catholics should be “in love” with the Compendium of the Social Doctrine- I can’t relate to those who aren’t to be honest. My conversion came about in large measure due to my honest reading of the social encyclicals- I found the same Spirit that animates Scripture, continuing that work to help us navigate through the necessary social-political waters- where modern society has become so interconnected, it was reasonable that Christ’s Church would develop a strong social teaching doctrinal base. As long as all orthodox CAtholics are struggling with the actual teachings on the books then I am content- for my own vision is not perfect. I do think that even though the Compendium contains original teachings from various sources within the Magisterium, the fact that the particular teaching or advice has been chosen to be included in the official Compendium adds weight to that idea. I apologize for any insulting tone I may have taken earlier- my primary point of passion is the fact that our conservative Supreme Court members are dodging abortion as though their hands were tied- and I understand their logic, but reject it because I believe natural law in this case trumps the positive law of the moment.

  • Where in the NT is natural alluded to? It’s a passage something like: you knew right from wrong before I told you….etc.

    Anybody know?

  • I meant ‘natural law’ alluded to….

25 Responses to Obama and Notre Dame – a Belated Follow-Up

  • Agreed 150% on the PWSA as a good common-ground measure. Heck, it’s good legislation regardless of whether it brings folks together or not.

    But, if you google around a bit, you’ll find that there is a lot of resistance in left-wing circles to the Act, coming from the mindset of the “reducing pregnancies, not number of abortions” crowd. The PWSA forthrightly (and rightly) presumes that abortions are bad and discourages them, which is a no-no in those circles.

    Given that the President appears to share that mindset, I think the odds of him putting his clout behind the PWSA are vanishingly small at this point in time. If/when he needs pro-life Democrats to get something he truly cares about passed, then you might see the horse trading.

    Sadly enough, I think we’re much more likely to see Rep. Slaughter’s “Prevention First Act” than the PWSA. And, make no mistake, Slaughter is in the hard-core choicer camp.

  • Father Jenkins- surprise still in his job- received his 15 minutes of fame. Dear Leader received another day of adulation. Both care about the unborn about as much as the crumb sitting on my desk. By me. Lovely rhetoric about Dialogue and such. But no other significant issue- and this is as significant as it gets- is more polarizing. Designed to be no other way. Tim notes those rare creatures known as pro-life Democrats- endangered species who should receive legal protection. Perhaps Dear Leader will open up TARP money for Planned Parenthood and non-franchise clinics. Might have the same beneficial effect as to Ford and Chrysler. Oh, just to note before posting- Tiller The Killer’s big time abort business is shutting its doors. What a shame. Maybe it could have qualified for TARP funding.

  • (1) Scalia does not really believ ein Original Intent

    (2) I don’t know what you mean by the “American Right” wanting to wash it hands of abortion by sending it to the States. First many on the right are for the Human Rights Amendment. ALso the “AMerican Right” would be working in their respective State legislatures to prohbit abortion. Activity does not stop just because it does not happen in the District of Columbia

    (3) Archbishop Chaput said recently there was no “Catholic way” to the interpret the Const. I think he is right.

    (4) what you refer to as States Rights is more commonly know as Federalism that has not been abolished. I think if you are proposing that getting this issue back to the States is against Catholic SOcial Doctrine you need to flesh that out some.

    (5)THere are Natural Law folks on the right such as Arkes and Robert George etc etc that are trying to influence the Court and polticy

    (6) There is nothing to probhibit Legislators from legilsating based on the Natural law

  • Let me add the whole Subsidarity , Federalism, abortion issue was fleshed out in some detail in response to Kmiec.

    See this entry at America magazine

    http://americaelection2008.blogspot.com/2008/10/different-take-on-kmiecs-book.html

  • Yeah, I would say that States Rights is quite consistent with Catholic Social Teaching. Subsidiarity and all. That is a principle you know.

  • I will grant that labels like American Political Left and Right are very general- but I think that those who feel comfortable self-labeling themselves liberal or conservative, will fit those larger categories. I reject these labels for myself because I believe like Archbishop Chaput- I use his great book “Render..” in my classes- that there isn’t going to be a Catholic political party- as the Compendium states we are always to be critical members of any political party- that implies that there is always going to be an incompleteness in any purely political party.

    I don’t mean to take a cheap shot on those who take the Federalist position, that abortion can only be resolved at the state level because that’s how our Constitution was written- but I advise all Catholics to read Notre Dame prof. Rice’s book on Natural Law. He describes Justice Thomas as pretty much putting the idea of natural law reasoning to death, when he backtracked during his confirmation hearings on previous positive assertions on the role of such reasoning in juridical decision making. I do view Scalia and Thomas quite negatively for the way they come across in interviews when they seem proud to assert that their Catholicism has absolutely nothing to do with their work as Justices- I don’t think anyone in any position should say that- the natural law is everyone’s responsibility- especially those with juridical and political power- this is an intellectual dodge- even if it is an honest one- to come across as some kind of progressive, non-partisan in contrast with those who do use reasoning beyond the deciphering of the original intent of the Constitutional framers.

    Professor Rice says that on abortion we don’t even have to pull out the natural law trump card- it would be rare to have to do that given that much of positive law in the Constitution is already rooted in natural law reasoning- if we apply the 5th and 14th Amendments to the unborn, we would be good to go- but this is not on the radar in the Scalia/Thomas circles as far as I know- and I would say that these Justices are very well regarded in general by conservatives/ American Political Right.

    I am offering a critique that isn’t designed to play well to liberals or conservatives, I don’t think Jesus played to such narrow audiences, and I don’t find the complete social doctrine of the Church to be in conformity with any ideology that I’ve encountered thus far- so I work in both liberal and conservative circles depending on the issue- but sometimes neither camp seems to get it right- like on abortion- the liberal juridical approach is ice cold, while I grant the Scalia et al approach is luke warm- not sure I can get on board with lukewarm even if it offers a legislative endgame in every state. I want the unborn to be safe in every state, all over the world- the Law should reflect this- the Law must reflect this, and then all other aspects of society will need to reform to adjust to this reality- economically, culturally- all of it needs to upgrade to deal with the children we will be welcoming into the world instead of terminating.

  • Subsidiarity is not to be viewed apart from the universal common good and solidarity- it also isn’t a replacement for the natural law requirements for all people- Catholic or not. This emphasis on natural law is found throughout the social doctrine and papal encyclicals

  • Thank you for a thoughtful diary. Another bill that I hope starts gathering support is the “Newborn Child and Mother Act”. Approximately 1500 mothers die in childbirth across Africa EVERY DAY. I gather most of their babies die, too.

  • TIm

    Let me say I am not saying that Natural Law Jurisprudence is forbidden. As Arkes says where in the Const does it forbit it? I am just saying that if lets say a Catholic Judge does that think that was part of the Document then I think he can in a valid way interpret it otherwise. I mean in the end his Power and authority come from the Document or the “Pact” as it were. So when Scalia looks at the text he does not that think he has the power to change it

    It is in a sense similar to the situation of the Federal Judges that lets say were anti Slavery. They might have been anti Slavery but because their power and authrotiy came from an agreement that made an compromise with this evil they very well could not just ban it nationwide.

    Again as to Natural Law and the Social Compendium what should Catholic Judges do. I can’t imagine that they would start citing the Comepndium of SOcial Justice. In fact what authority would they have to base Opinion on that at all.

    I am not sure Scalia or THomas for that matter have an agenda to end abortion nationwide. I think they probally think that is not their job but the job of the legislator. I strongly suspect that Scalia thinks Gay marriage is wrong. However I doubt he would think he ahd any authority to “ban” it in lets say Iowa.

    TO quote Chaput in Full
    “CHAPUT: The Supreme Court doesn’t make law, as we know. It interprets the law. I think it’s much easier from a moral perspective to be a justice – a judge – than it is to be a legislator. Legislators are the ones who make laws and change laws. But to interpret the law in its fidelity to the Constitution is a much less morally compromising kind of position to have, I think.

    I’d rather be a justice than a politician, in terms of dealing with my conscience, because if we write bad laws in this country that are constitutional, then the judges – the justices – have to interpret the laws as allowed by the Constitution, even if they don’t like them, even if they would think they’re not good for the country, it seems to me, even if they think they’re not moral. That’s what justices do. So I had the impression that Wendy thinks that the Supreme Court writes the law. Certainly that’s not my impression. I know it can’t write the law. In terms of not wanting all the justices to be Catholics, I agree with you, Michael. That would not be a good idea in the United States”.

    http://pewforum.org/events/?EventID=213

    Now I think Judical attitudes matter that is for sure. The attitude of the Iowa Supreme Courts Justices was frightening as they basically shot down arguments because they thought they could smell religous intent.

    I just think from a Natural Law standpoint that the key is if one wishes to adovcate that is to start in the legilatures. That is where the action is.

    As Chaput stated

  • “Subsidiarity is not to be viewed apart from the universal common good and solidarity- it also isn’t a replacement for the natural law requirements for all people- Catholic or not. This emphasis on natural law is found throughout the social doctrine and papal encyclicals”

    Well Tim I don’t think Federalsim gets rid of that. I mean what is changed or what is at issue is what branches of the Governements have the responsibility, power , and authority to act as to the common good or solidarity.. As to the abortion question is it the States or the Federal Govt or a combination of the two.

  • What other aspects of the natural law should the Justices be concerned with? Should a Catholic-based interpretation mandate that all homosexual acts be outlawed? Should a natural law view of the Constitution mean a ban of contraceptives? How far do we take this? And what do we do when we have a majority of Justices whose interpretation of the natural law leads to conclusions quite the opposite of our own?

  • Tim

    I think my other post did not go through for some reason

    Let me clear I am not saying that Natural law Juridprudence cannot be had. As Arkes says where in the COnst is it forbidden.

    I just think that if you really want Natural Law and to have it part of our system one needs to start with the legislature where the real action is at. THat is not to ignore the Judiciary. We should recall that Iowa Supreme Court mandated Gay marraige and in that argument they shot down opponets of it because they say said they could smell religious reasoning. That is a problem

    I am not sure at all that THomas and Scalia have a “plan” to end abortion. I suspect they don’t think that is their job but that of the legislature. Just Like how I think that Scalia is against gay marraige but I could never seem him overturning a state law allowing it because it goes against the natural law or because he does not like it.

    I suppose if we are going to get natural law more in the discussion first the Catholic schools nned to be teaching it more.Then we are going to have to have an discussion with our neighbors about it.

    Political parties are not going to be able to do that. In fact in GOP circles where such an approach has fans in some segments there would have to be some on the evangelical side that would have to embrace it. SOme are open others are wary.

    So as to Natural law principles I think there is a lot of work to be done before we can expect polticos to start using it. In fact we might need to breed a whole new generation of polticos that understand it.

    When I talk to Catholic about the natural law it sometimes seems like they look at me like I am from Mars. That has nothing to do with left, right, or center but just horrid Catholic education in the Puplit, in CCD , and in the schools.

    As to Catholic social justice concerns and principles I think there will be porgress till each “side” that is engaging this start talking to each other instead of yelling at each other.

  • Tim,

    Of course subsidiarity is to be seen in the context of the common good and solidarity. Just as solidarity is to be seen in the context of the common good and subsidiarity. The claim of solidarity does not rule out allowing more basic units of society tend to the common good. Catholic Social teaching never says this. In fact higher units of society are to take over only when lower units cannot meet a common need. States rights fits perfectly in this framework.
    When to allow higher units to take over from lower is a prudential judgement in many cases and you will not find such a criteria in the Compendium.

  • My impression from reading the social doctrine is that the common good is the only real reason for having governing authority in the first place- when this focus is lost then that authority can soon run amuck- I do not dispute or ignore the principle of subsidiarity but we are talking about abortion here, and that is something that cannot be left to even a popular vote- it smacks of the whole scene with Jesus being condemned by popular vote, and Pilate standing by, washing his hands of the affair, even as he seemed to side with Jesus on the level of basic justice- Pope John Paul II even used this comparison with abortion and Christ with over-reliance on democratic outcomes in determining all important matters- now Pilate has not gone down in history as a heroic figure- and I don’t think that a State’s Rights approach to abortion is going to be seen as the best we could do at the level of civil authority.

    We have a problem with subsidiarity as a primary principle to view abortion or the global economy through right now- with the power of multinational corporations usurping even the power of national governments- read Bailouts- it would seem that the local government powers have not kept up with the times- and Free Trade Pacts have taken economic decisions far afield from local control. With abortion, we simply have to have everyone doing what they can with whatever power they have to establish the legal and moral sense that an unborn child is worthy of our human rights. Natural Law reasoning does not have to be overused to the point where we have an effective theocracy- but we ignore the Natural Law to our own peril as a nation, as a people.

    Again- I cannot go into the detail here on this as Professor Rice did in his book- 50 Questions on the Natural Law- if anyone has read that book and has any comments I would love to hear of your thoughts. I think he represents the most orthodox Catholic position on the importance of Natural Law, and how we can promote it without having to force the nation to convert to Catholicism wholesale. There is something religious behind the Natural Law, and the Catholic social doctrine is a necessary guide- but the Natural Law is something reasonable and can be argued with non-believers and believers alike. We cannot continue to cede everything to the secularists- at some point we have to fight for more than merely symbolic gestures like Nativity Scenes on government property- we need Catholics willing to stand behind Natural Law reasoning and Catholic social doctrine- the Natural Law reasoning is all we need to use in public debates, and all the Justices need to make certain that Justice prevails when opportunity comes for them to render decisions that obviously offer life and death for many. Imagine if genocide came up for a vote? Abortion is a genocide of unborn, unwanted children- millions of them- if this doesn’t call forth a universal decision on the part of our Supreme Court- then they may as well pack it in, and leave our Capital empty of Justices and Justice.

  • Tim

    So a vote on the Supreme Court is legitimate but a vote in the Staer Houses is not. Also one can amend State Const a heck of a lot more easier than you can the U.S. COnst to show these natural law principles

    Again it is not a principle of “State Rights” but Federalism. I am not saying fight for a Human Rights AMendment. In fact I suspect that a HUman Ruights amendments would gain steam when it returned to the States.

    You know we can’t just blame nameless polticos in D.C. for not getting the pro-life cause done. It is suddennly much more in our faces where we must convince our neighbors

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  • Tim,

    Its not a problem of seeing subsidiarity as a primary priciple for in fact it is. As are the principles of the common good and solidarity. They are an organic unity. The problem becomes how do we apply these primary priciples to concrete situations. You have your problems with multi-nationals. I have a problem with strong (an ever increasingly stronger) national and international governments. The Compendium does not have a policy to address these. Catholics in good conscience apply the primary principles. At times Catholics in good conscience disagree, sometimes strongly. That’s life in the secualar for the Christian.

  • Honestly, Tim, I think your argument sets up a couple of straw men that you then proceed to effectively slaughter; I disagree with a couple of your premises, and must, therefore, disagree with your conclusions.

    First, I believe you fall victim to the same illogic that drives most who claim to not be “right-wing” Catholics: namely, you choose to lump all Catholic Social Teachings, and abortion, into the same mass and call it legitimately Catholic. I disagree for a couple of reasons:

    1. You mentioned that you would have invited neither PResident Obama nor President Bush to speak at Notre Dame, given the authority to make such a decision. You cite both men’s lack of conformity to basic principles of Catholic Social Doctrine as your reason.

    This comparison sufers for at least two reasons. first, abortion, and , say, the death penalty are not equivalent issues. The authority to make the decision to mete out a penalty of death rests with duly elected civil authorities. SOLELY with them. And while the Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching may decry the occasional necessity to mete out such a sentnece, and while it may state that the circumstances which should require such a penalty are so rarae as to be almost nonexistent, in the end, the judgment of the circumstances lies SOLEY with those duly elected to exercise such authority.

    Similarly with the exercise of war powers. The Church rightly decries the use of military force in *any* circumstance; however, it recognizes the right of governments to enter into armed conflict against those nations or entities which pose a credible threat, and which cannot be subdued by other means. That right flows from the national leader’s responsibility to provide for legitimate defense of its territory and citizens. And the authority to make such a decision rest, again, SOLELY with the likes of President Bush and President Obama.

    Man, this is brain-wracking. I will amend my opening statement to include the thought that I can only respond to one at a time.

    But i fwe are goin gto use Catholic Teaching to justify our positions, it wold seem prudent…to use ALL of it, not jsut the parts that nicely fit our preconceived schema.

    God bless.

  • Totally apart from the extremely interesting issues and discussions in this thread, it occurred to me [somewhat belatedly] that Father Jenkins was greatly disingenuous in the reasons he gave for inviting Mr. Obama to speak at the Commencement exercises.

    Commencements they are meant to be – but commencements to the world wider than the campus in South Bend.

    Now if the graduating students had not pretty well covered the subject – personally and intellectually – in four years’ attendance at the school, what is the purpose of a dialogue about it just as they are about to leave? Surely their teachers must have discussed [dialogued?] the issues during the campaign a year previously.

    I said disingenuous; I repeat disingenuous.

  • And the authority to make such a decision rest, again, SOLELY with the likes of President Bush and President Obama.

    But it does not end there. The authority to pass judgment on the decision made by presidents lies with the Church and SOLELY with the Church.

  • Tim,
    I would go further in this line of consistent criticism of the American political Left and Right. I don’t believe that the state’s rights approach to abortion rights is truly consistent with Catholic social doctrine. The juridical philosophy called “Originalism”, which is championed by many Catholics supportive of the American political Right, is not one that is rooted in Natural Law.

    Conservative Catholics hold to the belief that the laws of the land should be rooted in Natural Law. They belief that the way to change those laws is through democratic processes which are established in the United States constitution and the constitutions of the several states which it comprises. There is nothing in Natural Law which states that a judiciary should act in contravention of the laws which are established.

    Professor Rice says that on abortion we don’t even have to pull out the natural law trump card- it would be rare to have to do that given that much of positive law in the Constitution is already rooted in natural law reasoning- if we apply the 5th and 14th Amendments to the unborn, we would be good to go

    I agree completely.

    but this is not on the radar in the Scalia/Thomas circles as far as I know- and I would say that these Justices are very well regarded in general by conservatives/ American Political Right.

    I’m not so sure, have they ruled that way? If a case came before them which way would they rule? I think you’re mistaken. Those justices have consistently ruled in a way that would allow us to infer they do in fact believe that the unborn are human persons and are protected. Their Catholic faith (and basic empbryology) teaches them that, and there is no contradiction with the Constitution which would preclude them as “originists” in ruling that way.

    we simply have to have everyone doing what they can with whatever power they have to establish the legal and moral sense that an unborn child is worthy of our human rights. Natural Law reasoning does not have to be overused to the point where we have an effective theocracy- but we ignore the Natural Law to our own peril as a nation, as a people.

    Absolutely, but I think there is limits to what a Catholic is compelled to do given the restrictions of his office, especially if he has taken an oath to be bound by those restrictions. Now, no Catholic is permitted to commit an immoral act regardless of his office, but that doesn’t mean he is obliged to use their office illegally in their actions.

    Michael J. Iafrate,

    But it does not end there. The authority to pass judgment on the decision made by presidents lies with the Church and SOLELY with the Church.

    No. Wrong. While the Church has the authority to pass judgments when a public act is in objective violation of Church teaching, she does not make such judgements on purely subjective reasoning (sound thought it might be), nor does the Church pass judgement where she does not possess all of the relevent facts that the civic authority does. She may and often does issue opinions based on what is known and the preponderance of evidence, but that is not the same thing. Ultimately the judgement falls to the Lord God Almighty.

    Jh,

    I just think that if you really want Natural Law and to have it part of our system one needs to start with the legislature where the real action is at.

    exactly!

    Deacon,

    awesome! You nailed it.

  • No. Wrong. While the Church has the authority to pass judgments when a public act is in objective violation of Church teaching, she does not make such judgements on purely subjective reasoning (sound thought it might be), nor does the Church pass judgement where she does not possess all of the relevent facts that the civic authority does. She may and often does issue opinions based on what is known and the preponderance of evidence, but that is not the same thing.

    No, YOU are wrong. The Church has the right to make judgments on wars. Period. That it does not do so regularly with unambiguous force does not mean it does not possess this authority.

    Your mistaken view is precisely one of the results of buying into the americanist separation of secular and sacred authority. Too many Catholics (usually so-called “patriotic” ones) fall for it. What you do not realize is that you are contributing to the marginalization of the Church by promoting such nonsense.

  • “There is nothing in Natural Law which states that a judiciary should act in contravention of the laws which are established.”

    Because the Natural Law, i.e. the Law of Human Nature has no conception of “judiciaries.” However, the moral principles to which we’re oriented would suggest that laws that are not in accord with true justice–thus, not actually being laws should be contravened. Simple establishment makes no case in itself for not contravening it. Now you’ll argue that’s the role of the legislatior; I’m establishing that the Natural Law is not silent about the matter.

    “I think there is limits to what a Catholic is compelled to do given the restrictions of his office, especially if he has taken an oath to be bound by those restrictions. Now, no Catholic is permitted to commit an immoral act regardless of his office, but that doesn’t mean he is obliged to use their office illegally in their actions.”

    Well, I see your point. But this is again my problem with Scalia’s philosophy. I talked about it in a different thread. Effectively, I think the American conception of “justice” and “law,” at least in terms of judicial philosophy is based largely on positive law philosophy and Western Enlightenment philosophy rather than natural law thinking, and therefore, a proper notion of justice and law. Therefore, I think the “originalism and textualist” position might do-the-least-harm, it remains fatally flawed.

  • Eric,

    so how do you propose a “natural law” based judiciary should act? Do we need a legislature at all, just for administrative types of laws? Why not just a system of judges who base their rulings on their understanding of natural law? What reference documents for natural law would be used as a basis?

    I reject this idea because it is akin to anarchy. Each judge applying his own understanding of a very broadly contentious set of rather non-specific rules.

    I believe self-governance is in accord with natural law, and so the people guided by conscience establish the system of laws, the judges do not overturn them they simply apply them.

    There may be certain cases where heroic violation of laws will not cause more harm than good, that any moral person should stand up against them, this can not be the general case.

  • Matt,

    Well, I am no constitutional law scholar. However, I do think that the “originalist” and “textualist” position contradict, to some degree, my understanding of both law and justice because of the inherent lack of consideration of natural law principles. This, I think, is a built-in recipe for disaster. Granted, while the philosophy itself might be, relative to other theories, the “lesser of evils” because of its do-no-harm mantra, it still can create quite a few ethical problems for Catholics.

    I earlier used the example of pre-Civil War slavery. Hypothetically speaking, if there were a case regarding slavery before the United States Supreme Court, tied 4-4, and I’m a Catholic sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court, I certainly would not rule to uphold slavery as the law—and with no apology. It seems that the American notion of “justice” is not whether or not a law is in conformity with the natural law, reflecting the eternal law of God. No, rather, “justice” means having laws conform immediately to the written letter of the U.S. Constitution strictly and legal precedence. While this is not immediately a problem (I’m not saying that the U.S. Constitution should be irrelevant), while it is not in and of itself wrong—it does give rise to ethical issues.

    From the originalist viewpoint regarding slavery, a Justice would have to rule in favor of an unjust law which contradicts the very essence of their title: Justice. An unjust law is not a law according to the scheme of the natural law. However, to an originalist, that point is irrelevant. If law is not meant to be in conformity with the natural law, which reflects perfect justice, then our inherent goal is not to uphold real laws at all but human decrees with no consideration or concern of objective conformity with the laws written into Nature. This, to me, seems to be clearly antithetical to Plato’s The Laws, Cicero’s On The Law, Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, and St. Thomas Aquinas’ Treatise on Law which are four of the most important works in the natural law tradition. There is a fundamental disagreement then about the nature of law itself, about the nature of justice, and therefore, the likeliness to reach just conclusions, while not impossible certainly, is more difficult.

    Alexander Hamilton put it this way: “The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of Divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.” Even the more secular-minded Thomas Jefferson agreed: The “only firm basis” of freedom, he wrote, is “a conviction in the minds of people that their liberties are the gift of God.”

    These words are clearly a natural law commitment (and I’m not suggesting they are advocating it be used by the U.S. Supreme Court). Yet contemporary judicial philosophy is based largely on the Enlightenment-borne philosophy of legal positivism—that is, there is no inherent or necessary connection between the law and ethics, but rather laws are rules made by human beings entered into a social contract with no regard for moral objectivity because the contract is inherently relative.

    If you consider such broad phrases such as “cruel and unusual” or “unreasonable searches and seizures,” it seems to me that the Founders presuppose that you would reference some sort of objective moral criteria that exists outside of the text of the Constitution to know what constitutes such activity. What is cruel? What is unusual? What is unreasonable? Unless there is some objective, unchanging standards that it is presupposed, that is known and can be known because of a common human nature with an unchanging law—the natural law—then it seems that the “concepts” of these things evolve and change with society; thus, this lends itself to the argument for a “living Constitution” that should be read in light of the relative values of the contemporary people. Yet the “originalists” pore scrupulously over the text for some criteria, the Founders (in a world yet to have fully abandon the natural law) may have presumed to be self-evident, or they commit to some legal precedence judged to be in conformity with their judicial philosophy versus what it may be the Founders actually intended. Again, to what do you reference as the criteria to define such “concepts” (cruel, unusual, unreasonable)? Their time period? Our time period? And barring natural law ethics, it becomes inherently relative, which requires one to inject their “personal values” into the constitutional text.

    Simply put, I cannot fully embrace this judicial philosophy and am rather interested in projects to rethink, reasonably, how to interpret the Constitution and develop an American legal system that is more harmonious with the ongoing project of Catholic legal theory. Though, I will add that originalism does guarantee some sort of consistency in judiciary judgments and protects Americans from arbitrary changes in constitutional interpretation. Moreover, to fully reject originalism there needs to be a ready, clearly articulated criterion for interpreting the Constitution, otherwise the matter of law will be solely at the discretion of political inclinations of sitting Justices. Perhaps, at best, originalism constrains the worse temptation of Justices to overreach.

    But it still remains that originalism isn’t perfect. It faces hermeneutic difficulties to which Justice Scalia admits, when he said, “It’s not always easy to figure out what the provision meant when it was adopted…I do not say originalism is perfect. I just say it’s better than anything else.” That is, anything else so far. So while I am not in favor of a hasty departure from originalism to an anything-goes Court, I’m not going to back the theory.

    I still think that it poses quite an ethical dilemma and I’m weary of the Catholic support it gets despite the fact that its philosophical underpinnings, i.e. legal positivism, are fundamentally contradictory to Catholic moral and social thought. While I am sympathetic to the intellectual commitment to protect the integrity of the legal system and the constitutional order, I don’t think that requires an immediate advocacy of originalism over attempting to find some other way to interpret the Constitution. I am not convinced it’s all or nothing—either originalism or the “living Constitution” theory.

    As Edmund Randolph set out at the Constitutional Convention, the goal was to “insert essential principles only; lest the operations of government should be clogged by rendering those provisions permanent and unalterable, which ought to be accommodated to times and events.” Now, this quote, granted, can be misconstrued and interpreted as advocacy of an “evolving” doctrine in regard to constitutional interpretation. However, it seems to me, that the U.S. Constitution seeks to create a government that recognizes and respects the natural, inalienable rights that are self-evident in the natural moral law which are enshrined within the text of the Constitution. While the “essential principles,” which are moral, cannot change—as the moral law does not change; positive laws, however can. Different situations, different circumstances, different cultural values may have a need for different positive laws to best accommodate and promote human flourishing and the protection of human rights. (I’m not saying these laws come from or should come from the Court.) Now how such a view could reasonably and practically be played out in terms of judicial philosophy is quite a debate.

    Nevertheless, originalism strikes me as too keen on preservation of the status quo, that is, order rather than on actual Justice, ifthe circumstances puts the two in contradiction. It brings to mind Machiavellian principles (which I think is the actual beginning of modern philosophy) specifically the re-definition of prudence as a purely pragmatist virtue oriented more toward some end, judging and weighing consequences, i.e. consequentialist and utilitarian ethics that masquerade as natural law thinking when it really is not. It seems the concern is not necessarily on what is moral, but to what works (pragmatist). Therefore, one of the Cardinal Virtues is employed in such a way that its immediate and direct concern is not necessarily intertwined with its sister virtue of Justice, real justice. And the divorce of the two, characteristic of modern thinking, is precisely what I am arguing against.

    Again, I’m not constitutional law scholar, but I do find it curious that the framers of the Constitution did not indicate, in the text itself, how the Constitution should be read. I have no idea why. Perhaps they could not agree on a method themselves, as we cannot.

    Though, I do wonder if one is arguing “original intent” or “original meaning,” does this include taking into account the fact that the words (diction), come from other common law traditions based largely around natural law thinking? Do you seek to understand the words in those light as to get a greater understanding of the words in light of the historical situation? This might be comparable to using the historical-critical method as a tool for scriptural exegesis. In other words, one would read the U.S. Constitution in light of the Declaration of Independence and the natural law tradition? Or, does one read the text strictly, isolated from such references?

    My question arises because of this: The Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal. The Bill of Rights establishes natural human rights. Yet in the U.S. Constitution there is legalized slavery. A natural law thinker would see that as a blatant contradiction. If such a matter were before a Catholic on the Supreme Court, should the Catholic uphold the unjust law as a matter of originalist intent even if contradicts the natural law and say, the majority of the United States citizens refused to conform with natural justice and outlaw it legislatively. For instance, what if abortion was a right written verbatim into the U.S. Constitution. Would I have to be complicit with an intrinsic evil until such a time that society changed its mind? I know I certainly wouldn’t. I am not sure if any oath or commitment can exempt you from stopping an objective moral evil. Consequences aside, as judging whether or not to end slavery or abortion based on how the populace will respond is judging the rightness or wrongness of the act based on the consequences–which again, is consequentialism and not natural law morality. The problem again persists.

    This is the challenge and difficulty of natural law jurisprudence, of which, I am profoundly interested in. Perhaps, I should send Prof. Robert George, a proponent of the “New Natural Law Theory”, another email and ask him a few questions about the matter; he usually replies rather quickly.

38 Responses to Alexia Kelley — a solid Catholic appointment by President Obama?

  • This from the “Reproductive Rights” blog:

    “Moments after the announcement, John O’Brien, president of the pro-choice group Catholics for Choice, released a statement calling the Kelley appointment “a defeat for reason and logic.”…

    O’Brien’s complaint is that the choice of Kelley, given her previous role overseeing a Catholic, anti-abortion organization, puts important social policies in danger of being hijacked by those same Bushian forces. But Kelley is not the Bush-styled pro-lifer of yore. Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, which Kelley founded, is a progressive organization that has also played a primary role in instigating a nationwide discussion of common ground on abortion. Her group has championed policies aimed at preventing the need for abortion, policies that have been identified as those pro-choice people can support too. It would be a mistake to group Kelley among anti-abortion operatives who snub opportunities to improve the relationship between pro-choice and pro-life communities, and who refuse to do anything to reduce the need for abortion.”
    http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/reproductive_rights/2009/06/a-different-perspective-on-alexia-kelley.html

    Translation: She really isn’t a pro-lifer. They are right. As always Frances Kissling is not only wrong but WRONG!!!.

  • Silly dissenters. Kelly is just another pro-abort in Catholics’ clothing. Otherwise would not have extracted cash from the Daddy Warbucks of the Democratic Party. Also note her previous employers as listed by Chris. Just business as usual. As though a real defender of the unborn would be hired.

  • It’s a lose-lose scenario with your people. Appoint somebody who is not pro-life (in the narrow sense of abortion anyway), like Sibelius, and you jump up and down. Appoint somebody who is pro-life, and you still jump up and down…because that person supports Obama and marshalls arguments to make that case. In other words, the only way Obama could make you people happy is to appoint a pro-life Republican. In other words, you put partisanship above the issue of life.

    And please, don’t even try to suggest that an orthodox Catholic cannot vote for a politician who supports legalizated abortion — tell that to any non-American Catholic, anybody not exposed to the American evangelical culture, and see how far that gets you. (It’s actually not that hard when you realize that neither party will have much influence on abortion, and yet the party that most contributors to this blog favors has the annoying habit of believing every world problem can be solved with violence — and actually go about doing it).

    One more thing: I fully agree with you that Kissling is a dissenter. Do you agree with me that the American Catholics who defend Cheney’s torture tactics are also dissenters?

  • Blah blah blah Americanists. Blah blah blah Calvinist. Blah blah BLEH.

  • Paul,

    That was certainly a shorter, and better read.

  • “Do you agree with me that the American Catholics who defend Cheney’s torture tactics are also dissenters?”

    I don’t think theyu are dissenters since many are trying to debate what actually is torture

    In any event I dount there will be any real opposition form the Catholic conservative or GOP elements as to her nomination.

    I think some pople are pointing out that perhaps the “Pro-choice” elemnts concerns are misplaced

  • What makes someone “reflect Catholic principles?” Surely you cannot seriously suggest that simply being strongly anti-abortion (and voting against any anti-abortion politicians) should be the only criterion? I don’t consider this Roeder murderer reflecting Catholic values. I applaud President Obama for seeking people of differing views but open minds to work in his administration. It is surely an improvement over the incompetence of the Bush administration.

  • JH

    That’s like some people saying, “I don’t think those people are for the killing of babies, since they debate what exactly babies are.”

  • “you put partisnaship above the issue of life”

    Were you looking in the mirror when you wrote that, Tony?

  • “In other words, you put partisanship above the issue of life.”

    Interesting case of projection here. Tony, someone voting, as you did, for the most pro-abortion president in our nation’s history, a man who raised funds touting his opposition to a partial birth abortion ban, amply demonstrates the priority given by such a voter to the fight against abortion. It would be rather like someone who is a declared philo-semite voting for the Nazis in Germany in 1932. It would be difficult to take the philo-semitism of such a person as anything but lip service.

    Of course Catholics under the Catechism have a duty to vote for candidates in favor of legally banning 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.’

    ‘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.'”

    Of course I am sure that you can explain how voting for a man who would sooner eat ground glass than support legislation banning abortion is in accord with this section of the Catechism.

  • And, for the record, I commend Kelley’s appointment. Even if she’s only paying lip service to favoring restrictions on abortion (and I’m not convinced that she isn’t sincere on the issue, despite her allegiances to the party dedicated to legalized abortion-on-demand), that makes her much better than the President’s openly “pro-choice” Catholic appointments to date.

    Let’s take her at her word and give her the benefit of the doubt.

  • Appoint somebody who is pro-life, and you still jump up and down…because that person supports Obama and marshalls arguments to make that case.

    Actually, I believe the point was to outline that she’s a hack with no serious commitment to the pro-life cause. Of course, surely we’re being unreasonable Calvinist Americanists who believe that consistently voting against pro-life candidates while actively promoting pro-abortion candidates fails to signal a deep commitment to the pro-life cause.

    In other words, the only way Obama could make you people happy is to appoint a pro-life Republican.

    Actually, that wouldn’t make me happy. If he resigned or became pro-life, or actually took a stand against torture rather than putting every effort to defend torture and its perpetrators, I would be pleased. Of course, it could not make me happy, because I believe that happiness comes from Christ and not from material goods but perhaps you missed that part.

  • Henry I don’t think it is all the same. As I have pointed out an amazing number of things are called torture now. Once you get past waterboarding there is a lot of gray and their needs to be debate.

    Especially if we are going to have it as an standaard and prosecute people over it.

  • “the most pro-abortion president in our nation’s history”.

    This is a perfect example of everything that is wrong with the convergence of Catholic pro-lifers and Republican tactics. Your rhetoric is the sloganistic rhetoric of the Limbaughs and the Hannitys. Its disdain for fact and context push it into the relativistic realm. You are giving support to tactics that are Leninist at root. How ironic is that?

    See here for a fuller elaboration, if you want to debate the point (I’m arguing in good faith, by the way, and I know that most of you are better than Paul and Phillip on this front) — http://vox-nova.com/2009/04/27/a-watershed-moment/

  • Morning Obama is indeed one of the most Pro-Abortion Presidents in history

    No sense sugarcoating it. I guess we can debate if he or Clinton are in a tie.

    I mean I guess if was anti adoption or something that would make it worse but it is hard to see how it can be much worse.

  • JH

    We have many documents which indicate things to be torture, and those are the same ones being “questioned.” Things historically considered torture are now “questioned.” It’s exactly the same thing as “questioning whether or not that is a human person.” Same argument, different evil.

  • “It would be rather like someone who is a declared philo-semite voting for the Nazis in Germany in 1932. It would be difficult to take the philo-semitism of such a person as anything but lip service.”

    As always, you confuse an absolute principle (act A is intrinsically evil and can never be supported) with a relative choice. I believe it would be difficult to argue that abortion would have been any different under any Republican president. I also believe that the Republican choice would support war, and probably torture too, support the rich over the poor, mock the need to reduce greenhouse has emissions, and continue with the economic mismanagement that has characterized the movement since the 1980s. On the fundamental issue of life, claiming to be against abortion while being in favor of modern war as conducted by the US military is a sham.

  • “This is a perfect example of everything that is wrong with the convergence of Catholic pro-lifers and Republican tactics.”

    Bluster and sophisty. You helped put into the White House a man pledged to sign the Freedom of Choice Act. The only way Obama could be more pro-abortion would be if he actually performed them with his own hands.

  • “On the fundamental issue of life, claiming to be against abortion while being in favor of modern war as conducted by the US military is a sham.”

    All a smoke screen to allow you to vote for pro-abort candidates. I really doubt if at this point you are even fooling yourself with your arguments. The simple truth is that you rank the fight against abortion far below other issues and the fact that a candidate you support is a pro-abort is of little consequence to you.

  • Minion:

    That post is remarkable in its failure to actually address the argument. While I don’t use the phrase often, there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s accurate.

    Instead of showing how Clinton and Obama shared abortion positions, you instead criticize Reagan for not really being pro-life while attacking Bush over the Iraq War and torture while not mentioning FOCA.

    If you want your claim that this is Leninist tactic to be taken as anything more than a liberal example of partisanship, you might want to put some effort into showing the phrase isn’t not true. But you can’t, since the FOCA that Obama endorsed is much more extreme then the presidents before him had endorsed, Clinton or Reagan.

  • Wow! First the wonderful speeches at ND and in Cair, add to them the inspired nominations of Sotomayor, Diaz and, now, Kelley…… tell us again why we, the majority of Catholic voters who voted for the President, need to confess our “sin”?

  • Oh boy!!! Economic mismangement. Our Sec of Treasury got laughed out in China last week when he said that China inestments in American were safe.

    I don’t know what people are going to do when they wake up and realize all the money has been wasted and there is no money left to even borrow for these big ticket items like Health Care they want.

    Handing the keys ot he treasury to Reid and Pelosi does not seem to be doing well.

    Is Obama that much different that Bush on “torture” Rendetion is contuining and my gosh we have not waterbnoarded anyone since 2003.

    Favored the rich over the poor. Yeah I see what a priority immigration reform is under this administration.

    Regardless I think the issue was abortion. Not the polciy in Afgansiatan

  • An

    I am not against the Kelly nomination nor the Diaz nomination. I will say if you think these picks are inspirations then I would suggest you have a low bar for inspiration. Nothing wrong with them but I don’t seem them as groundbreaking and something to be wowed over with

  • Minion:

    I think your comment shows quite well that YOU’RE NOT APPLYING THESE PRINCIPLES EVENLY!!!!

    I also believe that the Republican choice would support war, and probably torture too, support the rich over the poor, mock the need to reduce greenhouse has emissions, and continue with the economic mismanagement that has characterized the movement since the 1980s. On the fundamental issue of life, claiming to be against abortion while being in favor of modern war as conducted by the US military is a sham.

    Let’s go through Obama’s ACTUAL positions.

    support war-Obama has promoted an expanded effort in Iraq while making no significant deviations from the Bush plan.

    and probably torture too-Obama has continued to fight efforts to uncover examples of torture and punish those who committed these acts.

    support the rich over the poor- Obama has pushed to give bankers bailouts while allowing GM & Chrysler to die, costing many poorer factory workers their jobs.

    the economic mismanagement that has characterized the movement since the 1980s.-That’s an argument of prudence, not of Catholic teaching. Besides, one would be hard pressed to show that Obama is doing an amazing job of economic management right now.

    On the fundamental issue of life, claiming to be against abortion while being in favor of modern war as conducted by the US military is a sham.

    So it’s less of a sham to be for abortion and for the modern war as conducted by the US military? How has Obama reigned in the modern war conducted by the US military? Surely not the examples of civilian deaths by bombings?

    You’ve projected your own desires on Obama, stubbornly ignoring the fact that he holds none of these positions in reality. That’s the true sham.

  • JH,

    They are “inspired nominations” if you’re a Catholic looking for anything … ANYTHING … to hang your hat on in justifying your vote for Obama. Like you said, there’s nothing particularly wrong with these choices (and there were obviously worse candidates that the President might have chosen), but they are hardly the sorts of nominations that Catholics are going to be looking to for “inspiration”.

  • Jay,

    They’re not just “inspired nominations.” They also have “compelling stories.” Come on. Get with it.

  • Michael D,

    First, I commend for you actually taking on the argument — sadly, Donald just retreats to slogans.

    A key component of your argument is that what I have argued is based on prudence. Absolutely. I cannot say these things with certainly, but I believe them to be more likely than not.

  • Oh, on the economics argument, some of you might be interested in what I just wrote. And I’m looking at you Donald! (actually, I’m looking at my monitor, but you know what I mean….)

    http://vox-nova.com/2009/06/09/american-socialism-a-long-and-detailed-post/

  • “sadly, Donald just retreats to slogans.”

    Projection again Tony. Take away cant phrases from your statements, such as “Calvinist”, and you have little to say.

    Body and soul you are a partisan liberal Democrat. The leaders of your political movement are pro-aborts. Rather than deal with that very unpleasant fact you attack pro-lifers who refuse to vote for pro-aborts and who oppose the pro-aborts. With your type of unblinking devotion, the pro-aborts in the party that has your unwavering allegiance will never change. Pro-lifers last year made it clear in the Republican party that we would never vote for a pro-abort. You would never be part of such a movement in the Democrat party. All your obfuscation can not conceal the fact that the slaying of the unborn is simply not a high priority issue to you.

  • These faux protestations by abortocrats on Kelley’s appointment is smoke and mirrors. Abortocrats can smell their own 100 miles away.
    Kelley may claim she’s pro-life, but her actions reveal what she really is.

  • It is my understanding, backed up by a number of official Church documents including Pope John Paul II’s “Evangelium Vitae,” that it IS permissible to vote for a pro-choice candidate WHEN they are the lesser of two (or more) evils, and their election would prevent an even worse pro-abortion candidate from winning.

    Now granted, Kelly is not an elected official, but out of all the people whom Obama would have (realistically) chosen for this post, might she not be a lesser evil than many of the others? And if so, would it not be permissible to support, or at least not actively oppose, her appointment?

  • Bruce Springsteen wearing a chain of what look to be a number of Miraculous Medals on the chain and there are recent pictures of this…and yes, Catholic background. Apparently, a campaigner for Obama, if only the Boss was on our side, who knows, he should address this issue. I apologize if this is “off-topic.”

  • Morning’s Minion Says:
    Tuesday, June 9, 2009 A.D. at 2:49 pm
    “As always, you confuse an absolute principle (act A is intrinsically evil and can never be supported) with a relative choice. I believe it would be difficult to argue that abortion would have been any different under any Republican president. I also believe that the Republican choice would support war, and probably torture too, support the rich over the poor, mock the need to reduce greenhouse has emissions, and continue with the economic mismanagement that has characterized the movement since the 1980s. On the fundamental issue of life, claiming to be against abortion while being in favor of modern war as conducted by the US military is a sham.”

    Not only a Prez. trying to enact FOCA as Donald R. McClarey mentioned, but at least Reagan and Bush tossed out the Mexico City Policy. I’m not up to snuff on this issue, but exporting abortion is an A-1 evil, is an ugly act of foreign colonialism or whatever word might be proper, especially from some guy that indeed, many have doubts about his own native birth in the United States. Imagine, aborting the lives of foreigners in foreign lands.

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  • I did not even mention BAIPA. It is becoming apparent that many supporters of Obama are just plainly not informed on the issues, then we see indeed, ignorance as being an ally in getting Obama elected.

  • Jh,

    Oh boy!!! Economic mismangement. Our Sec of Treasury got laughed out in China last week when he said that China inestments in American were safe.

    that one really cracked me up…. this is almost as good as Obama’s sudden born-again fiscal responsibility — ‘pay as you go’!

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One Response to Virtue Isn't Quick and Easy

  • Very interesting.

    The Amish seem to be a nice prototype of a level of subsidiarity that we Catholics continue to debate and theorize about.

    Something that many Catholic economists should study further on.

One Response to Becoming a Father: A Political Manifesto

3 Responses to Dehumanizing Work and Obstructionary Unions

  • It might happen, provided one or all of them still exists in two years. As with so many of these snowball effects, the underlying philosophy behind them was It Seemed Like A Good Idea At the Time. Not knowing that GM would ultimately have three times as many pensioners as active employees. And as for today’s criticism of the Porkapalooza Bill- the union movement forked over $400 million to the Obama campaign. It expected results favorable to it in return. It is never an easy thing for an invdividual, an organization, a movement, to be asked the challenge to reinvent self. But events of the past few months- personally and in the wider society- have wacked ol’ Ger in the head that it will be mandatory. For all of us. Woulda happened with or without Porkapalooza. The Church is immune as She was founded by Christ. And she is still dealing with the vast reorganization known as Vatican II. So happens to the best of us. Just control the nature of the change, not the inevitability of it.

  • Taylorism is alive and well–and still causing problems.

    However, manufacturing enterprises which have adopted “Lean” techniques are able to avoid Taylorism, because “Lean” is Toyota-system based. It’s actually a work-reduction system–or better put, an efficacy, rather than efficiency, based work environment.

    Where Taylor reigns, workmen’s compensation claims are significant expenses…

  • The claim of “5000 pages of work rules” stinks to high heaven; kindred to the big lie of UAW wages of $72 per hour. Production supervisors don’t carry around 5000 page manual; they are simply required to understand the seniority system and treat human beings fairly and with decency. Say what you want about unions, but as a union worker I never had to work in fear or brown nose. I came into the shop with my dignity and at end of the day I walked out with my dignity.