Tuesday, August 4, AD 2015



One of the many distressing aspects of the current pontificate is the strong attachment that Pope Francis has to economic nostrums that invariably end in the State largely controlling the economy for the “good of the poor”.  How such ideas have played out disastrously time and again in human history should be obvious to any sentient being.  The latest case study is Venezuela.  Richard Fernandez gives us the bad, albeit unsurprising, news:


Pop quiz.  Suppose a whole country decides to live off an imaginary inexhaustible stash promised by its president. One day it runs out of other people’s money and begins to starve. Hospitals start to close. Even the beer runs out. What do you do? What do you do?

According to the International Crisis Group that is the problem the world faces in Venezuela. “Some economists predict a sudden collapse in food consumption and widespread hunger, and public health specialists already say that some surveys are showing chronic malnutrition.”  If the Colossus of the North doesn’t save it, then all hell with break loose.  Can’t let that happen can you?


Aside from purely humanitarian concerns, Venezuela’s neighbours and the wider international community have pragmatic reasons for acting. If a solid institutional and social welfare framework can be restored through a negotiated settlement, and economic measures taken to deal with inflation and scarcity, a humanitarian crisis can be averted. If not, the collapse of the health and welfare infrastructure is likely to make political conflict harder to manage and could lead to a further erosion of democracy and an increasing likelihood of violence.

This in turn would have an impact beyond Venezuela’s borders. Potential risks include large-scale migration, the spread of disease and a wider foothold for organised crime. Without a change of economic policy, the country is heading for a chaotic foreign debt default, probably in 2016. An unstable Venezuela unable to meet its international commitments could destabilise other countries in the region, particularly Caribbean nations that have come to rely on subsidised energy from Caracas. It would also have a direct impact in Colombia, along a border already under multiple threats.

Venezuela should have been rich what with being the “12th largest oil producer in the world … and a beneficiary of the most sustained oil price boom in history”.  Instead it is flat broke. It’s currency, the Bolivar is worth 1% of its official rate on the black market and 1/1000th of what it was before Hugo Chavez assumed power.
The country may be on the verge of hyperinflation. Most economists reckon that the inflation rate is already 120% a year (the central bank stopped publishing price data, so no one is sure). Some expect it to reach 200% by the end of 2015.

The Bolivar has essentially stopped working as legal tender and now everything is doled out by the state in an effort to make things “affordable”. “The government uses a labyrinthine system of price and exchange controls to shield Venezuelans from soaring prices. But these make matters worse. Price ceilings have devastated local production; factories are operating at half-capacity and more than two-thirds of food is imported. Affordable goods are in short supply.”

The result has been food riots. Desperate gangs of looters are roaming the streets, forcing the remaining businesses to shut down. “One person was killed and dozens were detained following looting of supermarkets in Venezuela’s southeastern city of Ciudad Guayana on Friday morning, according to Venezuelan authorities. Shoppers seeking scarce consumer staples including milk, rice and flour broke into a supermarket warehouse on Friday morning, leading businesses in the area to shut their doors.”

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14 Responses to Francisnomics

  • “The International Crisis Group foresees an eventual collapse. “To forestall the severe consequences of a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela” it urges the regime to admit its errors and begs the opposition not to exploit the situation for political advantage. ”

  • “This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

    Of course, he has a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding the power of the State. An opinion which has been disproven by the 20th Century.

  • Why does Pope Francis distrust the men who are merchants in the market place, but trusts the men who are politicians in govt? Both are men given to concupisence of every sort. Personally I would rather trust the first who admits he wants my money than the second who promises me someone else’s money.

  • I suspect Francis is a sterling example of how flat the learning curve is amongst a certain type of bourgeois in Argentina (to the country’s detriment). I suspect he’s also a sterling example of the ecclesiastical economy attracts and nurtures and certain character type (see the fictional Harold Skimpole). The state comprehends a set of social relations, as do private firms, as to philanthropies and voluntary associations, as do households. What transpires between them is also a set of social relations. It does not occur to Francis that the state in Latin America is not nurtured properly as a matter of policy nor does policy provide for the state to focus on and meticulously execute the tasks proper to it (which do not include much in the way of capital allocation beyond construction and maintenance of public works). So, you have an apparat and court system which cannot reliably delineate real property titles and enforce those titles while at the same time building public housing, ruining housing markets with price controls. You have a regulatory regime which is so rococo and promiscuous (but so haphazard in its enforcement) that you bifurcate the private sector into a set of informal off-the-books enterprises and a set of legal enterprises who keep up their political connections at all costs. You run large public sector deficits because your inclination to put swaths of the populace on state patronage well exceeds your capacity to collect taxes. And, of course, you have horrendous quanta of street crime most places. The homicide rate in Brazil is 5x what it is in the United States and 20x what it is in Britain. Francis is dead to this and instead talks like a clueless opinion journalist.

  • What’s also interesting is that you hear these throwaway lines out of Francis without the slightest acknowledgement that you cannot find on the globe a political economy of which Ayn Rand would approve. Every advanced economy is a mixed economy of some sort, as are the more affluent 3d world societies like Argentina, and the main thing that’s lacking throughout much of the rest of the world is production itself and not redistribution.

  • Lord Acton said: “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely” Pope Francis has no respect for the intelligence of his people.

  • The Bolivar has essentially stopped working as legal tender and now everything is doled out by the state in an effort to make things “affordable”. “The government uses a labyrinthine system of price and exchange controls to shield Venezuelans from soaring prices. But these make matters worse. Price ceilings have devastated local production; factories are operating at half-capacity and more than two-thirds of food is imported. Affordable goods are in short supply.”
    This paragraph could apply equally to Obamacare. Statists and their silly and costly Utopian dreams.

  • I remain stunned that a Pope espouses a demonstrably dangerous ideology and does so in complete disregard of Catholic teaching, in disregard of and contradiction to his many predecessors, in disregard of history, and in disregard of the economic and political facts of life. I can’t help but wonder and ask what he was doing all those years in Argentina. Was he living without a concern about what the Popes had said about Marxism and liberation theology, or worse, was he undermining Church teaching? There may be many reasons why the Church is in complete free fall throughout South and Central America, and we may be seeing one of them in the person of this Pope.

  • I remain stunned that a Pope espouses a demonstrably dangerous ideology

    I doubt Francis is a systematic thinker, unless you regard the habit of viewing social relations as an injury done by one party to your preferred clientele as a ‘system’.

  • That quote from Pope Francis with his photo is a keeper.

    As long as we avoid defining economic “justice” as “equality” and avoid a universalist definition of inclusiveness, we can safely state that we HAVE seen that statement as having been “confirmed by the facts”. It just hasn’t been confirmed in the country that Francis grew up in, due to corruption. The problem is that Francis cannot conceive of any economic activity that is not corrupt, and he has some idea that democratic control of the economy lessens the effects of corruption. Neither is of course true.

  • I remain stunned that a Pope espouses a demonstrably dangerous ideology

    I doubt Francis is a systematic thinker, unless you regard the habit of viewing social relations as an injury done by one party to your preferred clientele as a ‘system’.

    AD—agree but I did not mean to suggest any prog/statist/Marxist/lib/dem was a systematic thinker. Systematic destroyer, yes; thinker… not borne by the evidence. 🙂

  • Has PF not heard of Communism & it’s effect on “The Poor?”

    is it possible to send PF a copy of the book entitled “The Black Book of Comunism”?

    A conservative estimate of “The Poor” killed under those Communist countries in the 20th Century (the form of govt he apparently loves & thinks is pleasing to God) is 100 million.

  • I am with Art Deco on this: P Francis, the “sterling example of how flat the learning curve is”—actually among our treasured ecclesiastical elites, the Society of Jesus.

    But in particular, some (I count myself) have been harping from shortly after his announced election that this man is highly under-educated for his position and seriously lacking in critical/analytical skills and knowledge to lead the CC. From the beginning, his claim of having an elite Ph.D from Frankfurt’s Sahnkt Georgen Theologate was a fabrication. Several of our elite order stoutly maintained this untruth far too long: so it was asked to see a link to, or a place to obtain through inter-library loan, his doctoral thesis. Gar nichts, rien, nada, niets. JP2’s, BXVI’s, just about all the recent popes’ doctoral works can eventually be obtained and verified. P Frantic? Global-climate-changing hot air.

    Someone like this who is at the helm of the ship with no real qualifications and no insight into what he is doing predictably will (1) rely on opportunistic “brainy guys” (Kasper, Marx, are you there?) and (2) will claim transcendental “visionary” status—to levitate above and out of reach of anyone rationally examining his claims. Laudato Si especially conveys this: as others have pointed out, in LS, when the pontiff quotes Great Universal Apodictic Truths about global climate-change, he provides zero source quotes. Visionaries don’t need to quote facts, troglodyte!
    Where this is going can be predicted: The whole Francis-cult, already crashing down, is convincing the most moderate Catholics to take flight: “This is a bad dream: wake me later. ” He stands to become more and more isolated with his same mantra-repeating like-thinker buddies, especially since socialists, lacking self-critical capabilities, predictably redouble their efforts when their outcomes fail. And the last thing he can be expected to do is to sincerely reach out and build bridges to those Promethean Pelagians he so fiercely and de jure has rejected. I have taken to calling him, “P Paul VII”.

  • I cannot say what I think of Pope Francis.

Time to Instruct the Pope!

Wednesday, July 15, AD 2015

Hattip to commenter Ernst Schreiber for the suggestion.  Pope Francis has admitted that he does not know much about economics.  Faithful Catholics have a duty to help the Pope learn more about this area he clearly likes to talk about I hereby announce a campaign for Catholics to send links to the I Pencil movie, The Road to Serfdom video and Keynes v. Hayek Second Round to the Pope! He doesn’t have a public e-mail address but the Vatican Press Office does:

[email protected]





In the comboxes please link to any other videos you think might be useful for the Pope as he learns about The Dismal Science.

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14 Responses to Time to Instruct the Pope!

  • The Vatican is having today a conference on global warming. I sent them the following message:

    I know, you, Vatican clergy don’t believe in God, Heaven, Satan or Hell, but I’m gonna say it anyway: Satan has bought you. Keep it up with your population control, global warming hoax, abortion funding, distribution of contraception materials, promoting sterilization to save your mother earth, through the guise of social justice crap. Your place is reserved in Hell from Eternity. God gave you an assignment, only one assignment: Preach the Gospel and lead souls to Heaven. But you followed your god, Satan. So, keep it up. Say “hi” to Al Gore for me, your little god, will you?

  • but, but he’ s going to check the Magisterium … or have it cherry-picked such as with the Gospels.

    From the article referenced in the post “Now he tells us”:
    “I speak of the poor because they’re at the heart of the Gospel,” he said. “I always speak from the Gospel.”

    But the common people, the simple people, the worker, that is a great value, Francis said.

    “I think you’re telling me about something I need to do. I need to delve further into this magisterium,” he said, referring to official church teaching.

  • or, from a more civilized societal era, the Parable of the Isms:
    “You have two cows” jokes originated as a parody of the typical examples used in introductory-level economics course material. They featured a farmer in a moneyless society who uses the cattle he owns to trade with his neighbors. A typical example is: “You have two cows; you want chickens; you set out to find another farmer who has chickens and wants a cow”. These examples were meant to show the limitations of the barter system, leading to the emergence of currency and money.[citation needed]

    The “two cows” parodies, however, place the cow-owner in a full-fledged economic system where cows are used as a metaphor for all currency, capital, and property. The intent of these jokes is usually to point out flaws and absurdities in those systems, although non-political jokes have been derived from them.[1][2][3][4][5]

    Jokes of this type attracted the attention of a scholar in the USA as early as 1944. An article in The Modern Language Journal lists the following classical ones:[6]
    Socialism: You have two cows. The government takes one and gives it to your neighbour.
    Communism: You have two cows. You give them to the government, and the government then gives you some milk.
    Fascism: You have two cows. You give them to the government, and the government then sells you some milk.
    Capitalism: You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull.
    Nazism: You have two cows. The government takes both and shoots you.
    New Dealism: You have two cows. The government takes both, shoots one, buys milk from the other cow, then pours the milk down the drain.[7]

    Bill Sherk mentions that such lists circulated throughout the United States since around 1936 under the title “Parable of the Isms”.[8] A column in The Chicago Daily Tribune in 1938 attributes a version involving socialism, communism, fascism and New Dealism to an address by Silas Strawn to the Economic Club of Chicago on November 29, 1935.[9]

  • Now you have done it Patricia!

    “Feudalism: You have two cows. The lord of the manor takes some of the milk. And all the cream.

    Pure Socialism: You have two cows. The government takes them and puts them in a barn with everyone else’s cows. You have to take care of all the cows. The government gives you as much milk as you need.

    Socialism: You have two cows. The government takes one of your cows and gives it to your neighbor. You’re both forced to join a cooperative where you have to teach your neighbor how to take care of his cow.

    Bureaucratic Socialism: You have two cows. The government takes them and puts them in a barn with everyone else’s cows. They are cared for by ex-chicken farmers. You have to take care of the chickens the government took from the chicken farmers. The government gives you as much milk and as many eggs as its regulations say you should need.

    Fascism: You have two cows. The government takes both, hires you to take care of them, and sells you the milk.

    Pure Communism: You have two cows. Your neighbors help you take care of them, and you all share the milk.

    Russian Communism: You have two cows. You have to take care of them, but the government takes all the milk.

    Communism: You have two cows. The government seizes both and provides you with milk. You wait in line for you share of the milk, but it’s so long that the milk is sour by the time you get it.

    Dictatorship: You have two cows. The government takes both and shoots you.

    Militarism: You have two cows. The government takes both and drafts you.

    Pure Democracy: You have two cows. Your neighbors decide who gets the milk.

    Representative Democracy: You have two cows. Your neighbors pick someone to tell you who gets the milk.

    American Democracy: The government promises to give you two cows if you vote for it. After the election, the president is impeached for speculating in cow futures. The press dubs the affair “Cowgate.” The cows are set free.

    Democracy, Democrat-style: You have two cows. Your neighbor has none. You feel guilty for being so successful. You vote politicians into office who tax your cows, which forces you to sell one to pay the tax. The politicians use the tax money to buy a cow for your neighbor. You feel good. Barbra Streisand sings for you.

    Democracy, Republican-style: You have two cows. Your neighbor has none. You move to a better neighborhood.

    Indian Democracy: You have two cows. You worship them.

    British Democracy: You have two cows. You feed them sheep brains and they go mad. The government gives you compensation for your diseased cows, compensation for your lost income, and a grant not to use your fields for anything else. And tells the public not to worry.

    Bureaucracy: You have two cows. At first the government regulates what you can feed them and when you can milk them. Then it pays you not to milk them. After that it takes both, shoots one, milks the other, and pours the milk down the drain. Then it requires you to fill out forms accounting for the missing cows.

    Anarchy: You have two cows. Either you sell the milk at a fair price or your neighbors try to kill you and take the cows.

    Capitalism: You have two cows. You lay one off, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows. You are surprised when she drops dead.

    Singaporean Democracy: You have two cows. The government fines you for keeping two unlicensed farm animals in an apartment.

    Hong Kong Capitalism (alias Enron Capitalism):
    You have two cows.
    You sell three of them to your publicly-listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute an debt/equity swap with associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax deduction for keeping five cows.
    The milk rights of six cows are transferred via a Panamanian intermediary to a Cayman Isands company secretly owned by the majority shareholder, who sells the rights to all seven cows’ milk back to the listed company.
    The annual report says that the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more.
    Meanwhile, you kill the two cows because the Feng Shui is bad.

    Environmentalism: You have two cows. The government bans you from milking or killing them.

    Totalitarianism: You have two cows. The government takes them and denies they ever existed. Milk is banned.

    Foreign Policy, American-Style: You have two cows. The government taxes them and uses the money to buy a cow for a poor farmer a country ruled by a dictator. The farmer has no hay to feed the cow and his religion forbids him from eating it. The cow dies. The man dies. The dictator confiscates the dead man’s farm and sells it, using the money to purchase US military equipment. The President declares the program a success and announces closer ties with our new ally.

    Bureaucracy, American-Style: You have two cows but you have to kill one of them because the government will only give you a license for one of them. The license requires you to sell all your milk to the government, which uses it to make cheese. The government pays lots of money to store the cheese in refrigerated warehouses. When the cheese spoils, the government distributes it to the poor. The poor get sick from the cheese, go to the emergency room, and are turned away because they have no health insurance. The President declares the program a success and reminds us that we have the finest health care system in the world.

    American Corporation: You have two cows. You sell one to a subsidiary company and lease it back to yourself so you can declare it as a tax loss. Your bosses give you a huge bonus. You inject the cows with drugs and they produce four times the normal amount of milk. Your bosses give you a huge bonus. When the drugs cause one of the cows to drop dead you announce to the press that you have down-sized, reducing expenses by 50 percent. The company stock goes up and your bosses give you a huge bonus. You lay off all your workers and move your production facilities to Mexico. You get a huge bonus. You contribute some of your profit to the President’s re-election campaign. The President announces tax cuts for corporations in order to stimulate the economy.

    Japanese Corporation: You have two cows. You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk. You teach the cows to travel on unbelievably crowded trains. Your cows always get higher test scores than cows in the U.S. or Europe, but they drink a lot of sake.

    German Corporation: You have two cows. You engineer them so they are all blond, drink lots of beer, give excellent milk, and run a hundred miles an hour. Unfortunately they also demand 13 weeks of vacation per year and are very expensive to repair.

    Russian Corporation: You have two cows. You have some vodka. You count your cows and discover you really have five cows! You have more vodka. You count them again and discover you have 42 cows! You stop counting cows and have some more vodka. The Russian Mafia arrives and takes over all your cows. You have more vodka.

    Italian Corporation: You have two cows but you can’t find them. While searching for them you meet a beautiful woman, take her out to lunch and then make love to her. Life is good.

    French Corporation: You have two cows. You go on strike because you want another cow, more vacation and shorter work weeks. The French government announces that it will never agree to your demands. You go to lunch and eat fabulous food and drink wonderful wine. While you are at lunch, the airline pilots and flight controllers join your strike, shutting down all air traffic. The truckers block all the roads and the dock workers block all the ports. By dinner time the French government announces it agrees with all your demands. Life is good.

    Political Correctness: You are associated with (the concept of “ownership” is an outdated symbol of your decadent, warmongering, intolerant past) two differently-aged (but no less valuable to society) bovines of non-specified gender. They get married and adopt a calf.

    Counterculturalism: Wow, dude, there’s like . . . these two cows, man. You have got to have some of this milk.

    Surrealism: You have two giraffes. The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.”

    Distributism: You name one of your cows Chesterton and one of them Belloc, and argue with them about what distributism means. Nothing much else ever gets done.

  • The instruction Pope Francis needs is the understanding of Christ’s teachings and how to communicate them. He should leave economics, climate change, etc to others. Pope Francis needs to get his priorities straight. Here we have world wide culture in rapid moral decline and a Catholic Church which does little to allay it, or even to recognize it, but would rather concentrate on making a heaven on earth (Social Justice) which only makes the world descend into hellish moral chaos faster.

    John Paul IV above has exactly the words Pope Francis needs to hear. Let us pray Pope Francis opens himself to the light of Christ.

  • As I recall, there was a Looney Tunes cartoon with a great explanation of capitalism given by Elmer Fudd. Did the trick for me. I’ve been a capitalist ever since.

  • As a retired educator, I recall that some folks are uneducable. Or, put another way, “all the miracles…..

    Ideologies tend not to seek truth with much passion.

  • Loved yours Donald. I recall Polish relatives telling us the definition of a Polish cow as one that grazes in Poland but is milked in Russia.

  • The Pope does not understand the concept of liberty:

  • Patricia and Donald- very good! I am sharing it

  • Argentine corporatism: You have two cows. You take out a pension on them and the government nationalizes the pension after the government runs the government system into bankruptcy. The government uses the money to give the cows free cosmetic surgery. They are udderly fabulous cows!

  • …aka Peronism

In Other News, Water is Wet

Wednesday, February 19, AD 2014

One of the most beloved fairy tales in this country is that the Government, which seems unable to balance its own books, can by fiat, with no consequences to employment, tell employers that they must pay a minimum wage.  Economist Thomas Sowell, who, like me, began his career earning less than the then mandated minimum wage, explains what an appallingly bad idea this is:

One of the simplest and most fundamental economic principles is  that people tend to buy more when the price is lower and less when the  price is higher. Yet advocates of minimum wage laws seem to think that  the government can raise the price of labor without reducing the amount  of labor that will be hired.

When you turn from economic principles to hard facts, the case  against minimum wage laws is even stronger. Countries with minimum wage  laws almost invariably have higher rates of unemployment than countries  without minimum wage laws.

Most nations today have minimum wage laws, but they have not  always had them. Unemployment rates have been very much lower in places  and times when there were no minimum wage laws.

Switzerland is one of the few modern nations without a minimum  wage law. In 2003, “The Economist” magazine reported: “Switzerland’s  unemployment neared a five-year high of 3.9 percent in February.” In  February of this year, Switzerland’s unemployment rate was 3.1 percent. A recent issue of “The Economist” showed Switzerland’s unemployment rate  as 2.1 percent.

Most Americans today have never seen unemployment rates that  low. However, there was a time when there was no federal minimum wage  law in the United States. The last time was during the Coolidge  administration, when the annual unemployment rate got as low as 1.8  percent. When Hong Kong was a British colony, it had no minimum wage  law. In 1991 its unemployment rate was under 2 percent.

It therefore came as little surprise to me yesterday when the CBO estimated that raising the minimum wage would kill off half a million jobs in 2016:


President Obama’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would cost 500,000 jobs in 2016, according to a report released Tuesday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The report also found hiking the wage from $7.25 per hour would raise income for about 16.5 million workers by $31 billion, potentially pulling nearly 1 million people out of poverty.

The White House and economic groups on the left immediately pushed back at the CBO’s conclusions on jobs even as they hailed the findings on poverty, saying its conclusions on jobs ran counter to other research.

“CBO’s estimates of the impact of raising the minimum wage on employment does not reflect the current consensus view of economists,” Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Jason Furman wrote in a blog post. “The bulk of academic studies, have concluded that the effects on employment of minimum wage increases in the range now under consideration are likely to be small to nonexistent.”

Given its findings on poverty alleviation, Furman told reporters the CBO report was an overall positive for the White House.

“Sometimes you have to have a respectful disagreement among economists,” Furman said in a conference call. “I think a lot of economists who have looked at [the] literature would summarize it differently than CBO has done here.”

Democrats are hoping to make the minimum wage a top issue in the 2014 midterms if the GOP blocks passage of a bill, but the CBO report would bolster Republican arguments for stopping a wage hike.

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21 Responses to In Other News, Water is Wet

  • My son started working at the tender age of 11. (They call it “volunteering”.) Five summers later (at the end of summer) they finally hired him–he is now 16. Now that he is on staff, he is very part time and doesn’t get called to “work” as much. He is deeply concerned what the proposed minimum wage hike laws will mean for his job (they have proposal in our state to raise the minimum wage up to $10.10, which is nearly $2 more than what he currently gets)–which is in a very competitive environment.
    I can’t help but notice how the same people who want to raise minimum wage extol such things as volunteerism and unpaid internships. Personally, I think it is little more than State-sanctioned-high-school-required slave labor.
    We could probably fix the illegal immigration problem in this country by eliminating State supported welfare and ending minimum wage laws. I can’t help but think many illegal immigrants are hired simply because they have a greater flexibility to working “under the table” in the underground economy.

  • ” . . . many illegal immigrants are hired simply because they have a greater flexibility to working “under the table” in the underground economy.”
    Exactly, and once legitimized, will form another Peoples’ Democratic Party voting bloc.

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  • I suppose another beloved fairy tales in this country is that the Government, which seemed unable to abide by its treaties with the American Indians, can by fiat, with no consequences, enforce contract law. Another is that the Government, which has willingly used terror as a weapon in both WW2 and the Cold War, can denounce and fight terrorism. Yeah, anyone can play that game, tearing down not only the government acts that you hate but also those you dearly love. Just don’t drag the Catholic Church into your fallacious reasoning. Donald R. McClarey speaks for himself and the owners of this web site, which (in spite of its name) does not speak for the Catholic Church.

  • I dunno. If we go big, really big, with our magical thinking, maybe those half million lost jobs are going to come out of the two million lost FTEs due to Obamacare allowing people to escape job lock. Win-win!

  • Howard,
    I’m trying in earnest to make sense of your rant. Are you suggesting that the government can (or should) force employers to hire or retain an employee at a wage such that the employer regards himself as better off without the employee?

  • “Yeah, anyone can play that game, tearing down not only the government acts that you hate but also those you dearly love.”

    Thank you Howard for a demonstration of the inability of some people to grasp the simplest economic concepts.

  • Was it Reagan that quipped:

    “An economist is someone who tells you why something that works in practice can’t work in theory”

    I guess the corollary to that is:

    “An economist is someone who tells you why something that can’t work in practice works in theory”

    Reminds me of that joke about the economist stranded on a desert island trying to open a coconut with his bare hands – “First, assume a hammer”.

  • I’m trying in earnest to make sense of your rant.

    Midday tippling.

  • Teen unemployment was quite high in the latter part of the 1970s as well. The NAIRU, the rate of unemployment congruent with price stability, was on an upward trajectory throughout the 1960s and 1970s and was at its peak (prior to 2008) around about 1979.

  • I guess the point of raising the minimum wage IS to secure “another Peoples’ Democratic Party voting bloc.”

    Abit like how the left here rally for the illegal immigrants- they hope that when the illegal are made citizens, they will vote for them for life- regardless of how skewed their policies are.

  • Half-a-million unemployed isn’t an unfortunate consequence of an increase in the minimum wage, its a half million more people motivated to vote for assistance from government.

  • Re illegal immigrants being hired to work “under the table”: this happens less often than people think. Many, perhaps even the majority, of illegals are hired to work for regular wages and get regular paychecks with taxes withheld from them — often using fake or stolen Social Security numbers for that purpose. It happens so frequently that 1) the IRS makes accomodations for persons who don’t have SSNs (the vast majority of whom are illegals) to file income tax returns using Taxpayer Identification Numbers in place of the SSN, and 2) the Social Security Administration acknowledges that contributions from workers of questionable legal status amounts to billions of dollars annually, and has the same effect as if the Social Security tax rate were raised by a couple of tenths of a percent. In other words, illegals are making payments into the Social Security system (which, contrary to rumor, they are NOT allowed to draw benefits from) that at least partly compensate for those not being made by the children Baby Boomers and Gen Xers did not have.

  • Perhaps Elaine, but I doubt if most of the illegal aliens congregated as work pools outside of Home Depots are being hired on the books, ditto servants, ditto those who tend lawns and ditto those who work in restaurants for non-chains. Additionally I have zero confidence that some illegal aliens are not receiving social security benefits. Opening up a checking account to receive social security benefits with a fake driver’s license or social security card for bank id is simplicity itself, although I imagine this would not occur often. This also ignores of course the welfare costs for illegal aliens. I see no way that illegal aliens are not a heavy net loss for the tax payer.

  • A Guy:

    I guess that’s the reason two of the dying, dead-fish wrappers (the New York Times and Wash. Post-it) recently printed that unemployment is “liberating/uplifting.”

    The oligarchs running both the dem and rep parties want illegals legalized. The dems see them as millions of additonal, solid voters and the reps see cheap labor.

    It is no secret to anyone with eyes to see. The power that be see as acceptable collateral damage the unreported destructions of the American family and middle class.

  • Don,
    In my experience Elaine is exactly right. Most employers of illegals withhold and remit taxes precisely because getting in trouble with the INS is a mild inconvenience compared to getting in trouble with the IRS. And in most cases the income tax withholding is largely refundable, but refund claims are never filed; and social security benefits cannot be and therefore are never claimed. Employers often know that the SSNs are phony, but they also know that the IRS doesn’t care as long as it gets the dough. All this is true even of maids and gardeners, who typically work for employers as opposed to directly for consumers. This is not to say that illegals don’t pose an expensive burden on an array of social services, or that we should be indifferent to laws and the policy challenges of assimilation, but the idea that illegals are avoiding taxes is much overstated. Although “off the grid” tax avoidance by illegals is hardly rare, its incidence is probably not all that different from the general population given comparable income levels.

  • Your experience differs from mine Mike. Around Central Illinois I know more than a few employers who do not withhold wages even on legal Americans, attempting the old “independent contractor” scam. Now needless to say this does not normally involve large corporations since such shenanigans would end up costing them far more than they are worth. However, for many small businesses and shell corporations in central Illinois such tax evasion schemes are far from rare. In regard to homeowners who hire illegals, for example, to roof their house, I think withholding for taxes would be a rare bird indeed which is probably why such transactions are not uncommonly conducted in cash. (I tend to get called in when the homeowner is dissatisfied with the work and I explain that taking a judgment in such a case is as futile as the government expecting to get taxes from such a transaction.) Of course discussions like this are frustrating because we have no good estimates on the underground economy size. I think the two trillion dollar estimate is probably low but all estimates in this area are just guess work.

  • “I can’t help but notice how the same people who want to raise minimum wage extol such things as volunteerism and unpaid internships. Personally, I think it is little more than State-sanctioned-high-school-required slave labor.”

    Exactly. Slave Labor. Volunteerism, commanded and demanded by the schools for graduation is slave labor. The virtue of charity must always be guided by man’s conscience and his means, not by the state. We are slowly sinking into the slave mentality. The danger is that by demeaning the virtue of charity and the JOY that is begotten by the charity, man will forget how to practice the virtue of charity and man may even forget he is a man, a man who loves his neighbor. This is already happening with the people demanding that the state take on the virtue of charity instead of they, themselves, as though only the state may dictate the virtues. Separation of church and state, the freedom of man’s body and man’s soul.

  • Elaine Krewer: I was injured at work.There were twenty people at the lawyers’ office. The receptionist spoke Spanish. Of the twenty people, I was the only white, non-Mexican worker claiming benefits. Just thought I would add to the pot.

  • I don’t doubt that there are still plenty of illegals working off the books. However, enough of them are actually paying into the Social Security system that it probably at least partially explains why the feds aren’t all that eager to halt illegal immigration. It’s a net gain for them but a net loss for state/local governments.

  • I’m scratching my head. Those people say they could never deport all the illegals, but seem to think they can lock up all the 85,000,000 American gun owners.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From Joe’s translation at Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    But then I’ll admit I’m still trying to cleanse myself of Marxist garbage. (a big help was realizing how steeped I was in it thanks to Sarah Hoyt here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    I also recommend:

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

    Also available as a PDF online for free.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Steve Phoenix,

    Scalfari himself described his method as paraphrasing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • What Donald said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Some of those statements are not necessarily true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Isn’t there a Commandment on that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Nate Winchester and ctd

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

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

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

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

    My second comment would then be this

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

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

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

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

  • Good distinctions, Botolph.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Darwin and Donald,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Oh goody, this is going to be a laugh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Excellent comment as always, Darwin.

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Michael PS – oh yes, why very good points my chap .. why in fact, they seem to be summed up, if you will, on this very clip …. (pfff)

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

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

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

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

    I am left with three questions from this discussion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    In a word, modesty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Jim,

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Philip,

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • That should read “abundance.”

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

  • Philip,

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

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

    I would say accidents of rather than essential to.

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

  • Philip,

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

  • Mike Petrik,

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

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

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

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

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

  • Mike Petrik,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Donald R. McClarey

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

    Michael Petrik

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economists and Christmas Carols!

Friday, December 7, AD 2012

Hattip to Instapundit. Anything that helps drive a stake through the idiotic notion that spending money we don’t have is good for the economy gets an enthusiastic thumbs up from me.  This from the brilliant, albeit a little twisted, mind of John Papola who performed the miracle of creating a rap video that I enjoyed:

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One Response to Economists and Christmas Carols!

Will Money Make Everyone Virtuous?

Friday, September 21, AD 2012

One of the many divides among modern Catholics is between what we might call the “moralizers” and the “justice seekers”. “Moralizers” are those who emphasize the importance of teaching people moral laws and urging them to abide by them. “Justice seekers” seek to mitigate various social evils (poverty, lack of access to health care, joblessness, etc.) and believe that if only these social evils are reduced, this will encourage people to behave better.

Moralizers tend to criticize the justice seekers by pointing out that following moral laws is apt to alleviate a lot of the social evils that worry the justice seekers, arguing, for example, that if one finishes high school, holds a job and gets married before having children, one is far less likely to be poor than if one violates these norms.

Justice seekers reply that the moralizers are not taking into account all the pressures there work upon the poor and disadvantaged, and argue that it’s much more effective to better people’s condition than to moralize at them (or try to pass laws to restrict their actions) because if only social forces weren’t forcing people to make bad choices, they of course wouldn’t do so.

(I’m more of a moralizer myself, but I think that we moralizers still need to take the justice seeker critique into account in understanding where people are coming from and what they’re capable of.)

One area in which the justice seeker approach seems to come into particular prominence is the discussion of abortion. We often hear politically progressive Catholics argue that the best way to reduce abortions is not to attempt to ban or restrict them, but rather to reduce poverty and make sure that everyone has access to health care. There’s an oft quoted sound bite from Cardinal Basil Hume (Archbishop of Westminster) to this effect:

“If that frightened, unemployed 19-year-old knows that she and her child will have access to medical care whenever it’s needed, she’s more likely to carry the baby to term. Isn’t it obvious?”

You’d think that it was obvious, but I’m suspicious of the idea that having more money or resources makes us better or less selfish people (an idea which strikes me as smacking of a certain spiritual Rousseauian quality that doesn’t take fallen human nature into account) so I thought it would be interesting to see if there’s any data on this.

I was not able to find data on the relationship of abortion to health insurance, but I was able to find data on the relation of abortion to poverty, and it turns out that the Cardinal, and conventional wisdom, are wrong.

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39 Responses to Will Money Make Everyone Virtuous?

  • “Having more money and resources does not make us better people. Those who are better off are just as capable of doing wrong than those who are less well off. Indeed, in this case, it appears that people who are better off are more likely to do wrong than those who are less well off.”

    The poor usually have not had the “advantage” of a politicized college education where abortion is viewed as a sacred rite. It usually takes much such “education” for a woman to convince herself that the child within her womb has no more moral worth than a piece of disposable garbage. Most faculties, including at many Catholic institutions, might as well have a sign outside the faculty lounge saying Sophists-R-Us!

  • In addition to being wrong on the facts, there is also an either/or attitude that always irks me. There is no reason we can’t push for illegality of abortion and support for pregnant women.

    As for more money and resources making people morally better, when has that ever been apparent? Many “elites” are the most vile people in the world.

  • To Don & the A.C.

    Two Weeks ago I found your site via Spirit Daily.
    I wish to thank you and your research talents.
    This post is most interesting and is being bookmarked for further education purposes.
    God bless you and the members of A.C.
    Philip Nachazel.
    M.I. (Militia Immaculata)

  • I think the relevant statistics are comparators of abortion rates as a function of household income. As such, it is pretty evident that abortion rates for poor pregnant women and their babies is multiples of women making more money.

    The intended vs.unintended pregnancy doesn’t start the relevant question, but simpler questions do: does income level impact the decision to abort? For this one has to evaluate all pregnancies vs. income level. There seems to be a relationship.

    In fact considering the high rate of abortion at or below the poverty line, that it is multiples of the rate of abortion above the poverty line, and that these may be intended pregancies often (by the above statistics), one has even more concern as to the perceived compulsions to abort intended pregancies.

    Household income factors seems to factor into these choices, or at least be very closely related, as it has for millenia.

  • Dan C,

    The reason why “abortion rate” data that is discussed is deceptive is that the “abortion rate” is the number of abortions per 1000 women per year. By that measure, yes, poor women do have a higher abortion rate than other women.

    The thing is: In order to make a decision whether to abort or note, a woman has to actually be pregnant first. This is called the abortion ratio, the percentage of pregnancies that end in abortion.

    Poor women (under the poverty line) abort 42% of their pregnancies (that’s ignoring the intended vs. unintended question.)

    Women living at more than 2x the poverty line abort 59% [corrected] of their pregnancies.

    In other words, a woman making more than 2x the poverty line is more than 40% more likely to abort if she gets pregnant than a woman living below the poverty line.

    Now, it’s true that when asked why the abort, women often cite financial concerns. But the numbers are stark. Poor women are less likely to choose abortion when they are pregnant than better off women.

  • Darwin,
    You should add in another very big variable: those just above 200% of poverty can be insurance less as to hospital bills ( making $30,270 plus but working for a small business that doesn’t cover them) ergo they must pay for prenatal, delivery, and post partum care out of small funds.
    Those exactly at 200% above FPL and lower are covered in New York by medicaid that covers pre natal, delivery, and post partum.
    In other words, medicaid is helping the poorer opt against abortion while those just above 200% of FPL have an additional sinful temptation of increased bills compared to a $400 abortion at 10
    weeks…and compared to poorer women who are covered by medicaid.
    Here is NY’s chart:

    Therefore Ryan’s desire to greatly reduce Federal medicaid can have abortion increasing results.
    That is not his fault before God IF he sees national bankruptcy as probable and as a greater evil if medicaid is not reduced. It’s the fault of those below 200% if they choose less expensive abortion if faced with medicaid cuts. But the Eisenhower Research Institute just tallied the full long term cost of the Iraq war as 4 trillion dollars and no candidate seems to be seeing that as a waste even if
    well intentioned at the time by Bush. Knowing what we know now, would we have spent lives and 4 trillion on Iraq as critical to US defense?

  • Is the 42% vs. 49% a statistcally significant difference? And by how much?

    Also, the poverty line is about $10,000? So at the massively enormously different income of $20,000, we are ok with these folks as being described as financially secure? The 200% number is an interesting number, however, the individual at this income level will only be insured through state-sponsored programs, since most jobs providing this level of income are without benefits. The point: this is not a secure position economically despite the apparent astronomically increased income (200%!) over what counts as really and truly poor.

    Finally, comparing 42 vs 49 percent, I do not get the 40% more likely to abort. The increased likelihood would be the 49 – 42 divided by 42? I get 17%.

  • Just looked it up: poverty level for 2012 for single woman is $11000.

  • So…the better terminology: financially insecure vs. desperately poor. The financially insecure person likely works, likely works without benefits in what would politely be termed, unenlightened work environments. This group will likely be in and out of employment- laid off, fired, etc. The person at the poverty line or lower is likely 100% surviving on government support.

    Does this offer any further insight into the dynamic of those desperately poor vs. very financially insecure?

  • Bill,

    I would really love to see data by insurance situation, I just wasn’t able to find a detailed breakdown, though Guttmacher clearly has some data on it. All they provide is a general statement that women with private insurance have a lower abortion rate than women with no insurance or with public insurance.

  • Dan C,

    First off all, I mis-typed when copying from Excel: Women who make more than 2x the poverty rate abort 59% of their pregnancies. (Thus they’re 42.6% more likely to abort when pregnant than women below the poverty line.)

    I agree that making 22k is not much, though since this is individual income we could be talking about a woman making 22k with a boyfriend who’s making and additional 22k. But more importantly, keep in mind that Guttmacher is splitting all women in the US into three groups: Those making less than the poverty line, those making 100-200% of the poverty line, and those making more than 200% of the poverty line.

    Thus, when we talk about women (between 20 and 29) making more than 200% of the poverty line abortion 59% of the their pregnancies, we’re talking about women making 22k but also women making 50k or 100k or $1mil. The whole range.

  • Darwin – There’s a lot of merit to your analysis. But the abortion ratio is higher for unmarried women, and a higher percentage of lower-income women are unmarried. What you’d need to do is control for marital status. I note that the report you linked to doesn’t have the necessary split. If I get a chance, I’ll see if the numbers are available on the site.

  • What this argues, for me, is that we need to attack both ends. Women need to be paid to be mothers and the best way to do that is to tax abortions to the point they are no longer afordible to even the rich. If an abortion cost 4x as much as a pregnancy, you would see those numbers change drastically and we could fully fund WIC.

  • I suspect one reason women at the higher income levels have abortions more often than lower income women is that they feel they have more to lose from an unplanned pregnancy. A poor teenager living in an environment where unwed motherhood is pervasive and few women attain higher education or professional jobs may not see an unplanned pregnancy as “the end of the world” in the same way that, say, a middle-class woman working toward a degree or professional career might. It is for this very reason that Mary Cunningham Agee (google her name to find out more) founded The Nurturing Network to assist college/professional women in choosing life.

    As for Ted’s idea that abortions should be taxed heavily (at least as much as tobacco and liquor), I’d suggest, only partly in jest, a reverse Hyde Amendment requiring ALL abortions to be paid for by Medicaid — because there would probably be no better way to drive abortionists out of business, given the months-long payment delays Medicaid providers (at least in Illinois) endure.

  • Seems some people care more about social evils (poverty, lack of health, unemployment) than about moral evils (abortion, class hate, fornication, sodomy, violent crime, etc.).

    Can the BLS measure the amounts poverty and unemployment that are caused by sloth, gluttony, lust, wrath, etc.?

    Anyhow, money is the root of all evil. Vegas casinos and many liquor stores are awash with food stamps.

    Recently, a NYC deli clerk was knifed for refusing to accept food stamps in payment for beer.

  • I like your division of moralizers vs. justice seekers.

    For the moralizer, I note the following, and this delves into all aspects of education to promote behavior change, in engineering, or patient safety or catechism: very clearly, education is the weakest form of promoting change. Forcing functions is the best.

    I also think some judicious language will help.

    I would like to note that voluntary poverty has much merit. Involuntary poverty must never be seen as desirable or normative. Certainly, few would desire involuntary poverty for oneself.

    I do like your argument, although I clearly find it arguable. Itbis hard to make sense of pro-lifism’s discussion of the impact of poverty, because sometimes when one is talking about abortion, one hears the movement’s line: poverty has no impact on the decision. This has been a clear notion for years, repeated. But then everry new statistic like the rate of African American abortion in NYC or the rate of abortion in the ghetto and pro-lifism makes noise inconsistent with the previous argument.

    Just an observation.

  • “Poverty” isn’t always just economic.

  • Ted Seeber: Both Hitler and Musollini paid women to bear children to become taxpayers and soldiers. America needs to replace 54 million aborted people to secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterty.

  • I should certainly like to see a law against abortion, as an expression of our social values. However, I doubt if such a law would have any great impact on the number of abortions.

    Anyone who remembers France in the 1950s and 1960s, before the Veil law will know that every village seemed to have its «faiseuse d’anges» [angel-maker]. Everyone knew it; nobody talked about it and the police regarded it as “women’s business,” and largely ignored it. Occasionally, a woman died and the Parquet, like Captain Renauld in “Casablanca,” would be “shocked, shocked to discover” that such things went on.

    Now this, remember, was before misoprostol or other abotifacient drugs became widely available. Banning them would probably be about as effective as the current laws banning marijuana.

    Catholic involvement in the quest for social justice may, as Blondel thought, lead persons of good will to respect Christianity and “to find only in the spirit of the gospel the supreme and decisive guarantee of justice and of the moral conditions of peace, stability, and social prosperity.”

  • Most of these studies (for practical reasons of data collection) are limited to correlational analyses rather than proving causal relationships. Also bear in mind that the imprecision of most such statistics makes only the largest differences worth analyzing (as Dan C alludes to). I prefer looking at the contingencies or results (sometimes referred to as decision theory) in following a course of action (or inaction). For example, Income would have a causal relationship with abortion frequency if abortions were very expensive And only performable in an accredited hospital And no one subsidized it. Since abortion is heavily subsidized and can be performed in a variety of settings, we would Not expect income as a Direct factor to play the major role. Without writing a term paper, it’s safe to say that in the US, abortion is more prevalent where there are (at least initial) economic and social benefits to the Individual making that decision. Since it is an individual making the decision here, there can be many idiosyncratic factors affecting that decision. All one could do is find those factors, if any, in common with large numbers of these individuals. Then those factors would have to be varied (through policies) to see if there were changes in abortion frequency. In practical terms, usually there have to be many different kinds of bad outcomes to the individual to prevent them from making decisions that would provide them some perceived benefit. (Recall how strictly the work requirement in welfare reform had to be written to get any effect).

  • Sacred Scripture is very clear about moralizers vs social justice types:

    If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. 2nd Chronicles 7:14

    If we don’t behave morally, then we don’t deserve social justice. In fact, what we deserve (since we murder unborn babies just as King Manasseh made his children to walk through the fire in sacrifice to Molech) is exactly what God gave rebellious Israel and Judah: deportation and enslavement.

    It’s the Gospel of repentance and conversion – “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto thee as well.” Murder babies and expect the consequences – “The wage of sin are death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

  • See the UPDATE on the post above, I got to thinking about how these percentages added up and took a second look at the report, and realized that although it’s not super obvious, it must be the case that the table is showing abortion ratio by demographic breakdown for the sub-group of unmarried women only. The top of each table breaks down overall pregnancy rates for married and unmarried women. Then all the other groups discussed (breakdowns by age, race, income and education) are for unmarried women only.

    I’ve re-written the post to reflect this. I think in some ways it strengthens the case a bit (since we’re now clearly talking about women in the same situation: unmarried women below the poverty line vs. unmarried women making more than 2x the poverty line) but it does mean that we’re not seeing the effect of the current social trend towards the poor marrying far less than the better off. If we looked at all women making more than 2x the poverty line, we might see a lower or equal abortion ratio to that for women who are below the poverty line, because women who are married abort far less than women who are unmarried. Unfortunately, Guttmacher doesn’t provide that data, only the comparison of unmarried women to unmarried women.

    That said, I think that reinforces the point that for women in the same position (unmarried and in an unplanned pregnancy) are actually less likely to choose abortion if they are extremely poor (below the poverty line) than if they are better off (making more than 2x the poverty line) which is exactly the opposite of the common wisdom on the topic.

  • JACK is correct.

    The most massive, most widespread poverties confronting America are in Faith in Jesus and His Holy Church; Hope in eternal life (not in this World); and Love of God and Neighbor.

  • “I should certainly like to see a law against abortion, as an expression of our social values. However, I doubt if such a law would have any great impact on the number of abortions.”

    Well laws against abortion certainly had an immense impact on the number of abortions in this country MPS before abortion was judicially legalized by Roe.

    I think the Guttmacher numbers on pre-Roe abortions are inflated (based on the deaths from illegal abortions I suspect their estimate on pre-Roe abortions are at least 50% too high), but even using their figures the number of abortions post Roe doubled. Beyond that, there is a world of difference between living in a society where abortion is condemned as a heinous crime, and one in which it is celebrated as a constitutional right.

  • Mary De Voe @11:04am, too, is correct.

    It’s politically incpoerrect so agenda-driven ideologues, that call themselves economists, will never report that lack of popuation growth (replacement rate less than one) is a massive problem contributing to rump Europe’s economic, cultural and poltical problems.

  • Maybe I missed it in all of this but, is there any data on why the women had abortions?

    A poor woman may have an abortion but for reasons other than being poor.

  • I haven’t used my handy-dandy, HP-12 financial calculator yet today – hmmmm.

    Anyhow, I just did a quick calculation.

    Since late 2008, the FRB printed and gave away about $2,900,000 millions.

    Since late 2008, fedreal deficits added up to about $5,000,000 millions.

    The population of the USA over that near four-year period is, say, 310 millions.

    That comes to just under $255,000 for each man, woman and child since late 2008.

    Where’s the money?

    If someone can find our piece of the action and send it to me, my wife and our three sons, we’d be truly virtuous!

  • MPS, RU486 requires multiple visits to medical clinics. (And is it really your thesis that the drug laws have no effect on the prevalence or incidence of drug use?)

    A couple of points you do not make which Edward Banfield might have suggested:

    1. Impulsiveness and circumscribed time horizons tend to be associated with ill considered sexual encounters and with various sorts of behavior that diminish one’s earning power. Moral decision making and good work benefit from discipline and prudence (though it helps to have a good heart).

    2. Education, marriage, &c are all very well and good, but they may just be correlates of the sort of dispositions and behaviors which enhance one’s earning power. They are ‘answers’ to problems in the social economy only if so doing enhances one’s human capital (and thus one’s wages) in sum and/or vis-a-vis other social strata. As a rule, all strata of society in 1948 behaved quite well in certain spheres. We were, however, a materially poorer society (something which applies as well to the lower economic strata).


  • Art says “Moral decision making and good work benefit from discipline and prudence (though it helps to have a good heart).” This is a golden statement and memorable.

    However, risk taking behavior (which includes impulsiveness) is not that correlated with socioeconomic level. Bill Clinton was certainly prone to frequent ill considered sexual encounters but mainly because there were no serious consequences to it (outside of a thrown object by Hillary once in a while.) Lack of planning with money is certainly associated with lesser economic outcomes, if for obvious reasons. However people with good financial planning skills don’t necessarily have good planning skills with anything else.

  • I am perplexed that when this discussion arises there is no mention of adoption as a solution to the unintended pregnancy. There are millions of couples who want to adopt, yet there are few babies available for placement. My husband and I tried for 5 years to adopt and were unsuccessful. Adoptive couples cover expenses for the birthmother which certainly would help with the financial issues during and immediately following the pregnancy. Clearly there is another alternative.

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  • It is impossible, of course, to determine the number of abortions before legalisation, but some statistics are suggestive. In the century or so from the battle of Waterloo to the outbreak of WWI, the French population rose, in round figures, from 31 million to 41 million, or about a third. During this period, there was little or no access to mechanical or chemical means of contraception. Over the following 98 years, from 1914 to 2012 the population rose to 66 million, again about one-third. Now, during the first 50 odd years, up to 1971 of that period, the policy of “Republican Natalism” severely restricted access to contraception. These figures confirm anecdotal evidence that abortion was not uncommon throughout a period of nearly two centuries.

    In the very different ethos of Victorian England, between 1815 and 1914, the population trebled, from 11 m to 33 m; this in a country with much higher rates of emigration. Between 1914 and 2012, the population increased from 33m to 52 m. an increase if one half, a period during which contraception became much more common.

    There is nothing in the mortality rates of the two countries to account for this stark variation. It is the result of the birth rate alone.

    Hence my contention that social attitudes play a much more significant role that legislation.

  • Michael,
    You may have to adjust your concept though for coitus interruptus in France. John Noonan in his book, ” The Church That Can and Cannot Change” cites the fact that the French Jesuit Theologian, John Gury, writing in 1850 wrote:  “In our days, the horrid plague of onanism has flourished everywhere”.  

  • Bill

    Making every allowance, I doubt if a nine-fold difference in fertility rates can be accounted for by coitus interruptus.

    I cited the demographic figures as lending support to the widely-held perception and the wealth of anecdotal evidence to suggest that abortion was common throughout the period in question.

    As for social attitudes, the pro-natalist legislation of the 1920’s fixed the penalty for abortionists at 5 years; more would have given the accused a right to trial by jury and juries were notoriously unwilling to convict

  • I doubt if a nine-fold difference in fertility rates can be accounted for by coitus interruptus.

    MPS, the figures you quote make for a four-fold difference in the rate of increase. Since France’s population was increasing during that century, it is a reasonable inference that the total fertility rate exceeded replacement rates. Even in societies with exceedingly low infant and juvenile mortality, that is still 2.1 live births per mother per lifetime. Somehow I doubt British women were popping out 19 babies a piece.

  • Art Deco

    I apologize for the unfortunate slip of the pen.

    What I meant to say was that the French population increased by 33% from 1815 to 1914 and the English by 300%. That is the nine-fold difference I was referring to.

    Of course, in each case the increase is spread over three to four generations, taking 25 to 30 years for a generation.

  • The formula is as follows:

    ln(Rg)/ln(Rf); Rg=3, Rf=1.33.

Great Depression II

Thursday, August 2, AD 2012

Al Lewis at MarketWatch uses the D word to describe the perpetual lousy economy we have been living through the past four years:

There is nothing more depressing than hearing about a new recession when you haven’t fully recovered from the last one. I take heart in suspecting that in a still-distant future, historians will look back with clarity and call this whole rotten period a depression.

The precise definition of a depression, of course, remains as debatable as anything else in the field of economics. By some definitions, it is a long-term slump in economic activity, often characterized by unusually high unemployment, a banking crisis, a sovereign-debt crisis, surprising bankruptcies and other horrible symptoms we can find in the headlines almost every day.

It is easy to avoid seeing all of these events as constituting a depression if you somehow have kept your livelihood intact all this time. But it’s important to remember that not everyone has to stand in a bread line during a depression.

Nearly one out of seven Americans receives food stamps, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s more than 44 million people. If they all stood in a line and someone photographed them using black-and-white film, they easily could be mistaken for people from the 1930s. Instead, they go to a grocery store and spend their credits like money. There isn’t even a social stigma to make them stand out as any more glum or destitute than anybody else.

Last week, the Associated Press reported that America’s poverty rate likely has hit levels not seen since the 1960s. Surveying several economists and academicians, the wire service predicted the official poverty rate would come in as high as 15.7% when the Census Bureau releases it in September. That would wipe out all the gains of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.

Poverty is another word for joblessness, and our economy hasn’t been generating enough decent-paying jobs for many years. Globalization, technology, outsourcing, immigration and the schemes of financiers have taken their toll. No one is certain when jobs will come back, and many of the jobs that remain don’t pay anywhere near what, say, your average failing CEO gets paid.

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48 Responses to Great Depression II

  • In the interests of precision, real domestic product in 1933 was 27% lower than it had been in 1929. By contrast, the rate at which goods and services were being produced in this country declined by 5% over the period running from the 2d quarter of 2008 to the 2d quarter of 2009. It has seen slow growth since. The dimensions are just entirely different.

    The difficulties we face are sclerosis in the labor market, inhibition on the part of entrepreneurs generated by the tremendous public sector deficit, and an incipient disaster when the bond market cuts the government off at the bar. Obama has no plan to address any of this because he is all about striking public poses and actually developing and publicizing plans would offend various Democratic Party client groups, would offend the holders of various and sundry ideological shticks, and render him vulnerable to public attacks of the opposition. The trouble is, it is not at all clear that the opposition has any concerns other than public relations either.

  • I think Paul Ryan’s budget Art would indicate a will among Republicans to at least start addressing the real issues confronting us, and not to simply continue writing hot checks until we can no longer do so. In regard to Great Depression II, I think our situation long term is more precarious than Great Depression I. In Great Depression I the fundamentals of the economy were always sound and FDR was correct that fear, a collapse of public confidence, was the primary culprit in regard to getting the economy up and running with investors willing to take risks again. Our present situation will require the much harder task of basically weaning a large part of the population off government dependence, a task that I suspect will be as pleasant nationally as the individual travails of a heroin addict going cold turkey.

  • Donald: More reason for the “depression ” is that Obama takes and takes and takes. Make Obama return the stimulus packages and the economy will correct itself. It is the economy as raided, abused and cheated by Obama. The word I wanted to use is not publicly admissible. Make Obama give us back what he stole. Every bill passed by Congress is a blank check for the government and a bottomless pit for the people. For this reason alone, Affordable Healthcare must be overturned.

    Czar Nicholas II was replaced because he saw his people starving in the byways and did nothing. Obama is not so stupid. Obama feeds the people with out taxdollars and steals the credit for it, demanding adulation for handing over our money to the hungry and the greedy, the not so hungry. WE can do this ourselves without having to worship at the feet of a mortal, fallible, inhuman being.

  • I have problems with this sort of designation because I don’t know what the Great Depression felt like. I look around today and I see food stamps and closed businesses and iPhones. I know that there was some prosperity in the 1930’s, and that there’s a sense of despair now, but I just don’t know if they’re comparable.

    I remember the 1970’s, and it seemed worse then. Unemployment and inflation. You could argue that the main consequence of inflation was devaluation of property, and that the housing market collapse in recent years has had a similar effect. We also had gas shortages though. When you can’t drive your car even though you’re willing to pay the market price for gasoline, that’s a different level of economic failure.

    OK, I’ve got a thought – it doesn’t feel as bad as the 1930’s or the 1970’s because you don’t see people chipping in for each other. I’m thinking of hitchhikers, panhandlers, et cetera. Is that because things haven’t gotten so bad, or because our selfishness and fear of others are worse than they used to be, or because government does a more effective job of keeping the equivalent of charitable acts invisible? I don’t know.

  • Pinky: “OK , I’ve got a thought – it doesn’t feel as bad as the 1930?s or the 1970?s because you don’t see people chipping in for each other. I’m thinking of hitchhikers, panhandlers, et cetera. Is that because things haven’t gotten so bad, or because our selfishness and fear of others are worse than they used to be, or because government does a more effective job of keeping the equivalent of charitable acts invisible? I don’t know.”
    Wihtout God and the Ten Commandments, some people applaud and enjoy the violence of crime wrecked on their neighbors. It has become unreal. The victim is dead and so, who cares, maybe God cares. Justice and peace have been banned from the public square. In Poland, a hitchhiker was given a green booklet, which the person who gave him a ride signed, and the govenment paid for the ride. In America, one would never be seen again until one’s body was found, after all, if the victim hadn’t been born he could not have been murdered. It was all the victim’s mother’s fault for not aborting him and now, that he has caused all this trouble for the police, let us forget about him as though he had never existed. God is watching. God is counting. Let us have public recourse to God in our culture and all else will right itself.

  • In regard to Great Depression II, I think our situation long term is more precarious than Great Depression I. In Great Depression I the fundamentals of the economy were always sound and FDR was correct that fear, a collapse of public confidence, was the primary culprit in regard to getting the economy up and running with investors willing to take risks again.

    No clue to what you are referring when you say ‘sound’. Again, there had been a catastrophic decline in output over the previous 3.5 years when Roosevelt took office. The only economic contractions of comparable dimensions that have been seen in recent decades occurred in war torn states, or during the tremendous dislocations which attended the dismantling of some of the command economies in Eastern Europe, or in Argentina during 1999-2004. It is true that the public sector balance sheet was in much better shape during the Depression. However, the labor market was suffering a tremendous sclerosis.

    The last time I checked, Mr. Ryan’s plan (is it updated?) reflected the Republican Party’s collective addlement about tax rates, hence incorporated decades worth of federal deficits.

    It is not so much “federal dependency”, per se. The programs most injurious to the social ethic of the slums are the ones with modest dimensions or ones most easily repealed or replaced. The problem you have is the wretched structure of financing medical care, which has promoted escalating allocations of available resources (public and private) and dead weight loss through a hopeless gordian knot of cross subsidies. What does the Democratic Party do? Pass legislation to make matters even worse.

  • “No clue to what you are referring when you say ‘sound’.”

    The factories and our resources were all intact Art, and we had a work force that was more productive than any of our competitors. The US was the dominant industrial power on the planet before and after the Great Depression. It was all a crisis of confidence and not fundamental problems with our system. My theory has always been that the New Deal retarded our recovery from the Great Depression, although I give FDR high marks for restoring national morale which was of help in the recovery, even if almost all of his economic policies were wrongheaded. Now we have an economy where the public sector rests like a boulder on a private economy struggling to bear up under the weight.

    “The last time I checked, Mr. Ryan’s plan (is it updated?) reflected the Republican Party’s collective addlement about tax rates”

    The solution Art is not to raise taxes but rather to slash spending to the bone. That solution is coming whether we opt for it or not, but it will be far less catastrophic if we implement it, rather than having a de facto National Bankruptcy occur in the public sector.

  • Don, I tend to agree. The question should never be why does a recession occur; it’s why does an economy ever work in the first place. That’s why Adam Smith was interested in the wealth of nations. Wealth is an abnormality.

    An economic crisis is caused when too many people look down and realize they’re walking on a tightrope. (The modern anti-capitalist would say that they look down and realize that they’re walking on air, Wile E. Coyote style.) The utter absurdity is that one guy can put up a factory making ball bearings, and convince people to show up and run machines if he gives them pieces of paper. And how did he put up the factory? He promised someone else pieces of paper. And what’s he going to do with the ball bearings? He thinks someone else will take them in exchange for pieces of paper. Ridiculous. Getting people to buy into the whole game is tough. An economic recovery takes place when you re-convince people to play.

    There was one area where the American capacity to produce dropped during the 1930’s, and that was agriculture.

  • What ended the Great Depression was the Second World War

  • What ended the Great Depression was the Second World War

    No. Military conscription and ramping up war production flushed out the plaque in the labor market here. Per capita income had by 1941 returned to pre-lapsarian levels in the United States, and then some. Recovery of income levels was earlier in Britain and on the eve of the 2d World War the British labor market was in about the same shape it had been in 1929 (bad shape but not bad shape induced by the financial crises). I would have to re-check the stats, but if I recall correctly, the country that never recovered (saw a loss in production levels not later recouped) was France. France was also very committed to a gold-standard.

  • Donald wrote: “The factories and our resources were all intact Art, and we had a work force that was more productive than any of our competitors. The US was the dominant industrial power on the planet before and after the Great Depression.”

    I don’t know hardly anything about economics except to balance my checkbook. However, working in the nuclear energy industry, I find what Donald is implying about the current American infrastructure to be correct. For example, we have no great foundries capable of manufacturing the large Reactor Pressure Vessels, Steam Generators, and Pressurizers that building a nuclear power plant requires. Japan and Spain provide such vessels. Even much of the instrumentation and controls is designed and manufactured overseas (e.g., Hitachi, Siemens, etc.). And Westinghouse, once the premiere US nuclear energy company, is now owned by Toshiba. And the expertise to do these nuclear things now lies with the Red Chinese (who intend on building 30 new nuclear reactors over the next couple of decades) and the French (whose nation is 70% + electrified via nuclear energy). Jeff Immelt, GE’s CEO and Barack Hussein Obama’s appointed Jobs Czar, recently said that nuclear is simply too hard to do. That’s an amazing statement for the head of a company which invented the Boiling Water Reactor. Well, if you’re a Democrat enamoured with a love of goddess Gaia and green energy, black death, with the corresponding hatred against self-responsibility and self-accountability, then of course it is too hard to do.

    Prediction: no nukes – more reliance on fossil energy – more price spikes and customer cost expenditures – more depression. Cheap, clean energy with a capacity factor of 90+ % is absolutely vital for a prospering economy, and that is exactly what Barack Hussein Obama opposes.

    BTW, Obama’s new appointment to the US NRC chairmanship (which the Senate confirmed) to replace woman-hater Gregory Jackzo (such an embarrassment to the Administration) is Allison MacFarlane, herself a geologist with ZERO nuclear experience (but she did work against the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository which endeared her to Harry Reid), and her husband is an anthropologist who studies anti-nuclear activism. Both of course are Democrats. Need I say more?

    Vote for Romney!

  • Ah, it is like Groundhog day.

    For a concatenation of reasons, the ratio of federal income tax collections to domestic product fell from 14% a dozen years ago to about 7.5% in recent years. That is the single most salient vector which has as its resultant federal borrowing to the tune of 9% of domestic product. Of course there are other causes.

    I had this exchange with a retired political scientist named Richard Reeb some time ago, which went something like this.

    1. You cannot welsh on federal debt service. Country go blooey.
    2. Benefits to the elderly have to be amended fairly gradually. The old tend to be somewhat impecunious anyway and have a limited capacity to adjust to abrupt changes in circumstances.
    3. With these parameters in mind, you would have to cut all other federal spending by about 2/3 if you want to close the defict absent an increase in income taxes. Federal borrowing accounts for about 40% of the current revenue stream.

    The retired political science professor says ‘cut away’. We still had troops in Iraq at the time (not to mention the chaps at your local VA).

    It is really a poor idea to be innumerate and insoucient about all this.

  • That’s an interesting point Michael. Exactly how and why? Military involvement now is seen as a Cost not a fuel for the economy. and will be budgeted less money. WWII involved our total economy, and of course world trade, defense contractors. I’ve got lots of questions.
    Could some of the factors be that the populace had been formed by the depression, was gaining on it, and had a sense of unity and mutual support by the time the war ended that was much more than isolationism but was the will to be a team and to improve our circumstances.
    I’m afraid any chance for a sense of unity in this country now is terribly fractured and more so every day

  • You could not raise taxes sufficient Art to possibly pay the debt obligations we have now. If Obama had his wish and the Bush tax cuts expired on those earning over 250k a year, the resultant taxes would be 85 billion more in taxes a year. With the current federal budget, 85 billion is a rounding error. Of course all this leaves aside the impact of hiking taxes on the economy. Slashing spending to the bone Art is the only option for digging us out of our fiscal hole.

  • The last time I checked, the ratio of federal expenditure to domestic product was about 0.24. That is higher than it ought to be and excising the dreck in the federal budget could take it down to 0.21. “Higher than it needs to be” is something different than “unprecedented” or “irreperable”. Payroll taxes collections currently amount to 6% of domestic product, corporate profits taxes about 1%, and miscellaneous taxes 0.5%. Again, collecting as much as 14% of domestic product in federal income taxes was accomplished fairly recently.

    We can check the technical literature. I am not sure there is a large difference in the macroeconomic effects of spending cuts or tax increases per se. Some sorts are more efficient than others, of course. Both have contractionary effects over a circumscribed time period. IIRC, our most recent efforts at stimulus suggest a short term multiplier of 0.6 for efforts to goose the economy, as some economist predicted when the stimulus was under consideration. That suggests several years of economic stagnation as fiscal consolidation is being effected.

  • McClarey wrote, “Many mistakenly view Obama as a radical.”

    Suppose that a U.S. President was basically raised as a communist and now sticks it to us like a fascist. Should he be considered a radical?

    Thomas Sowell composed the following article.

    The following website is not a so-called “birther” site, Donald.

  • Suppose that a U.S. President was basically raised as a communist

    By his maternal grandmother (vp of a local bank), his maternal grandfather (furniture salesman turned insurance agent), or his step-father (engineer employed by the state oil company of Indonesia – a subsidiary of the Indonesian military)? He met his father once over a period of several weeks in 1971. One’s mother generally is a weak influence on one’s view of public life and the President has been passably clear he thought his own addle-pated.

  • Art Deco,

    You didn’t check out the links in my post, did you? Not surprising…
    You didn’t read the Sowell article, did you? Exactly…

    Was BHO at all associated with Frank Davis Marshall, Art?
    Would you say that the Weather Underground was/is a marxist, revolutionary group?

    Art, here’s a link to another article that you won’t peruse:

    And two more:

  • The one job Obama had was editing a financial newsletter. Look it up. He referred to it, in a letter to his mother, as working for the enemy.

    In 2009, he and the ministry of troof promised that if Congress gave him $800 billion to stimulate, the unemployment rate would fall to 5.4%. If his heavy-majority Dem Congress didn’t, he said it would be 6%. Obama got the dough: the unemployment rate has been above 8% (even with adjustable statistics) for 41 consecutive months.

    Liberal dolts (I repeat myself again): that means we the people are worse with the stimulation.

    Obama’s policies were intended to harm the evil, unjust private sector. It’s working. Give him four more years and it’s finito.

    Look at what the Obama regime did, not what the ministry of troof said.

  • Dr. Sowell says nothing about his upbringing and the other link is to a speculative work apparently contending that Barack Obama, Sr. falsely claimed paternity of Ann Dunham’s child (even though he was already married to someone else and had been acquainted with Ann Dunham for all of 5 months as of February 1961). It belongs in the same dumpster with Birch Society publications and most Kennedy assassination literature.

    Frank Marshall Davis was in Stanley Dunham’s circle of friends. Strange as it may seem, there are people in this world whose politics do not infuse there every waking moment. The notion that the President was ‘basically raised as a Communist’ because a quondam party member was a friend of his grandfather is preposterous.

  • Art Deco,


    Did BHO not refer to a “fundamental (to the roots) transformation” of the U.S.?

    I wrote, “Suppose that a U.S. President was raised as a communist…” It’s a supposition, a proposition that I think should be considered.

    You did not answer my question about the Weather Underground.

    Did you read the American Thinker articles? Before you tune out completely, I ask you kindly to read the following from a solid Catholic priest.

    Basically, Father Hardon’s contention is that Marxism is alive and well in the U.S. Marxism involvies cutting roots and replanting.

    And another on the modern link between contraception and socialism:

  • Edward R R your links are quite an education for me. thanks

  • anzlyne,

    I owe my education to Christ Jesus and his Church.

    Are you Christian?

    I’m still wondering what McClarey thinks.
    He wrote, “Many mistakenly view Obama as a radical.”

    I hypothesized: “Suppose that a U.S. President was basically raised as a communist and now sticks it to us like a fascist.”

    Again, should he be considered a radical?

    With that question still in the air, I must state that without a radicalized populace, BHO would not have been elected…

  • “I’m still wondering what McClarey thinks.”

    That Obama was raised in a hard left environment, but I doubt if he has strong ideological views of his own. He simply accepts unthinkingly those views that are dominant in his own party. He is a complete reactionary and the farthest thing from a radical. Viewing him as some sort of driven ideologue is to give the man far too much credit and to misunderstand him.

  • OK!

    Mr. McClarey,

    What do you think about this article?

    Also, do you think his views on sexual morality are simply reactionary, sir?

  • Yes, because they are taken as gospel among the liberal circles in which he has spent his entire life. He is not some rabid revolutionary, but rather a dyed in the wool unimaginative reactionary, and that is one of the keys to defeating him. He does not respond well to the unexpected and the new.

  • I looked at the American Thinker pieces, but they’re junk.

    Obama has been in office for three years and change, ample time to see what he brings to the table: nothing. Take all the vectors which operate in the Democratic Party as a matter of course, calculate the resultant, and that’s what you get with this Administration.

    Unlike Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan, Obama manifests very little evidence of sustained reflection on either the political order or matters religious. Unlike Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, or George W. Bush, he has not shown much inclination for reading histories. He lacks the history of real accomplishment outside electoral politics that Eisenhower and Bush the Elder had.

    Richard J. Daley was Mayor of Chicago for 21 years; he never wrote his memoirs. James Thompson was Governor of Illinois for 14 years; he has never written his memoirs. Charles Percy had a handsome career in business of 28 years duration followed by 18 years in Congress; he never wrote his memoirs. Barack Obama was a working member of Congress for two years and change. He was on the faculty of the University of Chicago Law School for 12 years. His curriculum vitae is bereft of law review articles. It does, however, have a pair of memoirs. The man doesn’t wanna run nuttin’ but his mouth. His politics are as superficial as everything else about him.

  • “The man doesn’t wanna run nuttin’ but his mouth. His politics are as superficial as everything else about him.”

    I think you may have hit the nail on the head there. Another common assumption about Obama that, I believe, gets overplayed in some conservative circles is that he is a “Chicago Machine” politician determined to impose corrupt Windy City style government everywhere. Well, if he were a true Machine politician, he wouldn’t have bothered running for POTUS. True Machine politicans regard state or federal office as a mere stepping stone to the ultimate prize of becoming alderman or mayor, where they get to be much bigger fish in a smaller pond. Rahm Emmanuel fits the mold of a Machine politician; Obama doesn’t.

  • I am a Christian. I hope there is enough evidence in my life to convict me!
    I think that is what you and Don McC and Art D are talking about– what the evidence tells us about who B. Obama is. By our fruits we are known– not by who we hang out with, the sins or virtues of our parents etc- but the fruits of our own lives. We are seeing fruit evidence already. He may not be personally strong, but surrounded and influenced by many strong ones who seem him as a likely carrier for their ideas…or he may be very strong and wily… I don’t really know.
    But I do not see evidence of increasing peace patience goodness love, joy, forbearance, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
    As you know that list is from Paul’s letter to Galatians . Right before Paul lists those fruits he lists some other works:
    immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions,
    occasions of envy,* drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.

  • I think that President Obama is a machine politician in style. He doesn’t like to or expect to be challenged. Favors are given out on the basis of loyalty. There is no opposition party worth considering. The top man can use any lever of power he wants to.

    It also means that he’s more loyal than Bill Clinton ever was. Clinton betrayed every one of his constituencies (except for the abortion lobby) at one point or another. I look at Obama’s loyalty to Holder and I see a machine politician. Reverent Wright is a different case. Wright didn’t play the role he was supposed to. He talked when the candidate didn’t want him to. That’s a punishable offense.

    Ideologically, I think that in most cases if you scratch a liberal, you find more liberal underneath. Conservatives claim that you’ll find a socialist underneath. And maybe a lot of liberals were influenced by socialism in their youth, but life experiences tend to moderate us from our more ideological youths. I don’t think that Obama has ever moderated his beliefs. Scratch him, and there’s a hardcore socialist underneath. Or, I think D’Souza has argued that there’s an anti-colonialist underneath. Someone who wants to see the First World’s role diminish, wants to see the rich lose and the poor gain.

  • I dunno, Pinky. Andrew Greeley and others have identified clubhouse politics as reliable avenues of political participation for wage-earners and as operating in ways which reflected the priorities of working people (at least in a particular era). Greeley also said: “Mayor Daley didn’t need house intellectuals”, or pretty boys, or polished and articulate people. Mayor Daley himself was known for an extraordinary head for people: “he met you once, he remember you forever”, said one of his precinct captains. For all the crookery of Chicago politics, there was an intense decency about the man manifest in certain spheres (vis-a-vis his wife, for example). Obama keeps his nose clean up to a point. I doubt other people register much with him.

    Obama, like Gary Hart and Michael Dukakis, seems a manifestation of the sensibility and priorities of the professional-managerial bourgeoisie in American politics, to the point where Hillary Clinton was appealing with some success to the more vernacular wing of the Democratic electorate. Except, of course, that Hart’s background was thoroughly working-class, small town, and hard-shell protestant; what was so odd about him is how little of that you could see or hear when he spoke. Still, it was a world he knew. It is hard to imagine someone farther away in spirit from Chicago ward politics than Obama (except Dukakis, who was at least a capable wonk).

  • “It is hard to imagine someone farther away in spirit from Chicago ward politics than Obama”

    Bingo. Classic/traditional ward politics (whether in Chicago, NYC, Boston, or any major city) was and is intensely local and personal. It demanded a lot of tedious social activity, like going to wakes, church suppers, parades, etc., where you could get to know literally every potential voter in your ward. While favors are, as Pinky said, given out on the basis of loyalty, the flip side is that the politician also had to show loyalty to his constituents, and work to earn their vote. If he didn’t, sooner or later the party sachems would notice and he’d find himself displaced by a rival. Policy wonks with grandiose aspirations about making history and changing the world generally don’t have the patience for this stuff.

    “For all the crookery of Chicago politics, there was an intense decency about the man (the senior Mayor Daley) manifest in certain spheres”

    He was, I understand, a daily communicant throughout his life. Mike Royko’s “Boss” points out that during his years as a state legislator he was unusual in that he shied away from “the many pleasures of (session life in) Springfield,” such as getting drunk every night, playing high-stakes poker with lobbyists, and shacking up with secretaries. Instead, he faithfully went to Mass every morning, did his work, called his wife every night, and went for walks with two of his best friends (one of whom later became a bitter political rival). He was equally straight-arrow in his personal life while mayor. With that in mind, I’m amazed there wasn’t any seismic activity reported near Holy Sepulchre Cemetery the day Rahm Emmanuel made his infamous “Chicago values” remark.

  • Mayor Daley I deserves credit for leading a blameless personal life. However, if there was any art of political corruption he failed to master, it wasn’t from lack of effort on his part.

  • Art,

    Did you check out the American Spectator article?

  • Donald,

    Was BHO simply a reactionary when it came to the Born Alive Infant Protection Act?

  • Valerie Jarrett’s one-time-father-in-law knew a friend of Stanley Dunham’s and they had in their social circle another family that had some vaguely-stated association with David Axelrod. Six degrees of separation.

    When Barack Obama was acquainted with Frank Marshall Davis, the latter was running a wholesale paper business. Vernon Jarrett was a prominent opinion journalist in Chicago for a quarter century. He was, per Joseph Epstein, a standard issue black particularist, whatever he may have done with his time ‘ere age 30; he also was notable for having no time for Jesse Jackson.

    The business about David Axelrod is lifted from Discover the Networks. Again, Discover the Networks does not say much definite about the association between Axelrod and David Canter. Axelrod was a newspaper reporter for the Chicago Tribune and then set up shop as a Democratic Party campaign hack for hire. On the basis of his observable behavior, there is no reason to believe he is anything but what he appears to be. He was born in 1955. By the time he would have been involved in any kind of political activity, the Communist Party was a remnant organization of no importance. The Students for a Democratic Society and allied organizations had proved evanescent. Axelrod would have been too young to have had much to do with them. There was a segment of portside opinion journalism that favored the other side during the later years of the Cold War. If he had ever worked for any of these publications (Village Voice, Mother Jones, The Nation, Radical America, &c), it would be on Discover the Networks. It is not.

    All of these people are observable and known quantities. There is no there there.

    As for the antecedent generation, the following is notable. The Communist Party had 100,000 members in 1947. It had about 16,000 in 1972. Even if it acquired not a single new recruit in those 25 years, there you have 84,000 quondam members. During the interval between 1947 and the midpoint of Barack Obama’s residence with his grandparents, it is a reasonable guess about 40% of people living in 1947 had died. That leaves you with roughly 50,000 one-time members ca 1975, or roughly 150 in metropolitan Honolulu and 10x that number in and around Chicago. They had jobs and friends like everyone else.

  • Good point Edward R R .. he is not just a do nothing. He HAS taken action and is responsible for the deaths of (how many???!!!) I think we can recognize his stripes.
    I am not sure why some are reluctant to call him radical. We have to take him really seriously for what he claims to be and for what he shows himself to be. It is a mistake to underestimate his commitment to what he espouses.

  • “Was BHO simply a reactionary when it came to the Born Alive Infant Protection Act?”

    Sadly yes. By the time he started his political career the Democrat party was the pro-abort party and Obama simply follows unthinkingly the path of his party. Obama did not invent any of this. He is not an innovator or a radical.

  • “Valerie Jarrett’s one-time-father-in-law knew a friend of Stanley Dunham’s and they had in their social circle another family that had some vaguely-stated association with David Axelrod. Six degrees of separation.”

    If you’re really into connecting the dots that much, then I must be one of the most dangerous radicals on earth. I work for an agency of the Illinois General Assembly, of which Obama was once a member. That means I have only 2 or 3 degrees of separation from EVERYONE Obama knows, from David Axelrod to Bill Ayers to Tony Rezko. Better not tell The American Spectator!

  • Donald,

    The Born Alive Infant Protection Act was passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate in 2002. Being against that Act was apparently not as you say “the path of his party” at the time.

    NARAL expressed neutrality on the bill, sir.


    Please understand that the American Spectator is on your side, if you are against the current administration.


    The American Thinker is not a rag as you apparently believe. Again, if you are against the current administration, I suggest reading further on that website.

  • I have read it. The quality is mixed and, re the President, some of their writers are obsessed with the inconsequential (e.g. how long a time BO Sr. cohabited with Ann Dunham and the characteristics of their social life, to the point of calling Gov. Abercrombie a liar because he has offered memories inconsistent with a thesis of Jack Cashill, &c.).

  • I am familiar with the American Spectator, which I look at in hard copy. It is not a bad publication, but it is not comprehensively reliable in its editorial judgment.

  • Elaine Krewer and Donald R. McClarey

    Mayor Daley may well have been a man of great personal piety, but that is not always incompatible with a pragmatic approach to politics. Père Joseph du Tremblay was not only an austere religious, but wrote one of the treasures of French spirituality, his «
    Introduction à la vie spirituelle par une facile méthode d’oraison, » is still in print; it is a remarkable adaptation of St Ignatius Loyaola’s Spiritual Exercises to the Franciscan tradition – Père Joseph was a Capuchin Friar. He was also Cardinal Richelieu’s most trusted confidante and diplomatic agent, hence his nickname of l’Eminence grise [Grey Eminence] Richelieu, too, was personally devout and a reforming bishop; he introduced the Tridentine reforms for priestly formation into his diocese of Luçon, the first French bishop to do so.

    Alas, both men were sometimes betrayed into using methods to achieve their political goals that were less than edifying.

  • So far as I can see Mr Obama has made no original contribution to the political thinking of the Left. Moreover, he appears uninfluenced by more recent developments, especially on the International Left – One thinks of people like Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, Eric Hazan or the comité invisible.

    This may well be, because what Europeans consider the Radical Left, Americans would regard as the lunatic fringe.

  • “The Born Alive Infant Protection Act was passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate in 2002. Being against that Act was apparently not as you say “the path of his party” at the time.”

    Yeah, of course Naral was neutral on that piece of legislation because it contained this provision:

    `(c) Nothing in this section shall be construed to affirm, deny, expand, or contract any legal status or legal right applicable to any member of the species homo sapiens at any point prior to being `born alive’ as defined in this section.’.

    Pro-aborts tend to be neutral when a piece of legislation cannot impact their sacred right of abortion.

  • “Keynes” is subverted by today’s credentialed, academic economists, liberals, and so-called journalists.

    The man was a clear thinker and highly correct in his advocacy of short-term, government deficits to raise falling aggregate demand . . .

    In about 50 words Keynes, would tell us why $5 trillions in deficit spending; Obamacare; Dodd-Frank; stealing from mortgagees and GM bondholders; vetoing energy independence; etc. have not resolved Great Depression II.

    He curtly had “pegged” Marx, Obama and his ilk.

    “Marxian Socialism must always remain a portent to the historians of Opinion — how a doctrine so illogical and so dull can have exercised so powerful and enduring an influence over the minds of men, and, through them, the events of history.” – John Maynard Keynes

    “. . . an obsolete textbook which I know not only to be scientifically erroneous but without interest or application to the modern world . . .” – John Maynard Keynes on Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital”

    “I can be influenced by what seems to me to be justice and good sense; but the class war will find me on the side of the educated bourgeoisie.” – John Maynard Keynes

    Now, I am a “Keynesian.”

  • Here’s a sample of articles from American Thinker that more or less correspond to the perspective of The American Catholic:

    Articles: Obama the Lawbreaker versus the Catholic Church
    Feb 22, 2012 … Catholic bishops and the Church’s other clerical and even lay leaders have let this issue devolve into a debate about the right to use ……/obama_the_lawbreaker_versus_the_catholic_ church.html

    Articles: Obama’s Catholic Church Gambit: Lessons from American …
    Feb 16, 2012 … Morris speculates that the Obama HHS mandate on contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients is a fight with the Catholic Church that Team ……/obamas_catholic_church_gambit_lessons_from _american_communists.html

    Articles: Why is the Catholic Church Surprised?
    Feb 19, 2012 … Why is the Catholic Church Surprised? By Trevor Thomas. In the months prior to the 2008 U.S. Presidential election, then candidate Barack ……/why_is_the_catholic_church_surprised.html

    Blog: War on the Catholic Church
    May 13, 2012 … War on the Catholic Church. Keith Riler. We know contraception’s cheap and plentiful availability makes President Obama’s HHS policy a ……/war_on_the_catholic_church.html

    Articles: The ObamaCare Mandate: Are Catholic Martyrs Not Far Off?
    May 27, 2012 … Those unfamiliar with Catholic theology don’t understand why Church officials can’t be more flexible when it comes to ObamaCare and the ……/the_obamacare_mandate_are_catholic_martyrs _not_far_off.html

    Articles: Obama’s War against Catholics
    Feb 8, 2012 … The Catholic Church, with its dogma, magisterial authority, and two-thousand- year-old tradition, is the most visible and significant source of ……/obamas_war_against_catholics.html

    Archived-Articles: The Catholic Church and the Left
    Feb 20, 2011 … Whatever one may think of its theology and ecclesiology, the cold heart fact of the matter is that the Catholic Church is not just one more ……/the_catholic_church_and_the_le.html

    Articles: ‘Pro-Choice’ Obama Forces Religious Institutions to Pay for …
    Jan 25, 2012 … Reaction from the Catholic Church, its bishops, several Catholic universities, and many other Catholic leaders has been swift and categorical.…/pro-choice_obama_forces_religious_ institutions_to_pay_for_abortion_drugs.html

    Articles: Whom the Gods Would Destroy
    Feb 12, 2012 … I’m referring, of course, to the Catholic Church. Now, I don’t mean that the Archangel Gabriel will appear out of the East to scourge the ……/whom_the_gods_would_destroy.html

    Archived-Articles: Catholic Church and Health Care Reform
    Aug 16, 2009 … The Catholic Church’s opposition to euthanasia (an act just as evil as abortion) is clearly stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2277: ……/catholic_church_and_health_car.html

Question: If they trust women, why don’t they trust mothers?

Wednesday, May 30, AD 2012

SHOCKER: Teens need their mothers. Mothers can help their daughters. Even in crisis.

There’s an article forthcoming in the journal Economic Inquiry by Professors of Economics, Joseph Sabia and Daniel Rees, that shows parental notification or consent laws are associated with a 15 to 25 percent reduction in suicides committed by 15- through 17-year-old women. The researchers analyzed National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health data collected from 1987 to 2003 and found results that are consistent with the hypothesis that laws requiring parental involvement increase the “expected cost of having unprotected sex,” and, consequently, protect the well-being of young females. (Hey, they’re economists.)

Here’s the reasoning, taken from this paper by the same authors.

  • Researchers have already found, using state-level data from 1981 through 1998, that parental involvement laws reduced teen gonorrhea rates 12 to 20 percent among teen females. (Klick and Strattman, 2008)
  • Other recent studies provide evidence that female adolescents who become sexually active at an early age are more likely to suffer from the symptoms of depression. (Hallfors et al. 2004; Sabia and Rees 2008)
  • Research has shown that multiple sex partners increased the likelihood of substance abuse. (Howard et al. 2004)
  • It is also been found that adolescent females who had multiple sex partners were 10 times more likely to develop the symptoms of major depression than those who remained abstinent. (Hallfors et al. 2005)
  • There was no evidence of a similar relationship between male multiple partners and adolescent depression. (Hallfors et al. 2005)

So the hypothesis is: If parental involvement laws discourage minors from risky lifestyles that affect their physical health, then they would promote emotional health of teenage females as well. Analyzing suicide rates will give an indication since there have been many studies that link depression and suicide. The national suicide data was analyzed and that’s exactly what they found – a supporting correlation. Parental involvement laws correlate with fewer suicides. Further in support, there was no evidence of a similar relationship among male adolescents, and no correlation between parental involvement laws and suicide for older women because, well, neither group would be affected by those laws.

Makes sense, right? You’re probably thinking, “Did we need to pass those laws, wait and see what happened, and then count suicides?” No, we didn’t, and there’d be at least some justice if the people opposing those laws would take notice.

You’d think someone who really cares about women would be able to take an objective view of this data and consider it as an appeal to our collective conscience. You’d think someone who parrots, “Trust Women!” would be consistent enough to also trust mothers who are raising teens. When the state comes between teens and their parents, it just follows that the adolescents will not be as close to their parents as they ought to be.

This only affirms what we already know. Parents of teen girls can be trusted – should be trusted for the psychological benefit of a daughter in crisis. The abortion advocate community doesn’t seem as concerned about young women, though, as they are about politics and agendas. They instead say that people just want to make it harder for teens to have abortions, and that teens have a “fear of abuse” from unrelenting parents. Oh, and they’ll say something about how correlation doesn’t equal causation, revealing that they either are ignorant of analytical methods or, even worse, knowledgeable of them but dishonest when the results don’t fit their predetermined conclusions. Some will even say that teen women should be trusted to make their own decisions even when the decision for these desperate young women is to end their own lives. Of course, we all know why Planned Parenthood doesn’t want the parents involved. Ac$e$$ to abortion.

So I have a little hypothesis of my own. I predict (but would love to be proven wrong) that not a single abortion advocate will come forward and honestly reassess parental consent laws even though there is no body of data to support their premise. Could they admit that maybe, just maybe, the default condition is not that most parents of teens are abusive. Imagine!

If they trust women, why can’t they trust mothers and fathers? Where does this automatic distrust of parents come from anyway? Perhaps there’s a cost associated with believing that a mother has the right to kill her own child in the womb, and that cost is faith in people to love their children unconditionally at any point in life, even during difficult times.

H/T:  Michael J. New at National Review

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5 Responses to Question: If they trust women, why don’t they trust mothers?

  • Informed sexual consent, legal maturity, begins at emancipation, like voting, driving a car and signing any kind of contract. All persons’ unalienable, endowed civil rights are held in trust for them by God, by their parents and finally by the state, in this order. A minor person becomes a ward of the court if their parents neglect or abuse their civil, unalienable rights. The court acts “in loco parentis” in the best interest of the child. A minor child, without legal informed sexual consent to give becomes pregnant. Because of her pregnancy, the court declares that the legally minor, un-emancipated pregnant child to be emancipated by the very proof that the child is a minor and incapable of making legal decisions for herself, or of giving informed sexual consent, or valid consent to any surgical operation. The court overrides any parental notification by legally kidnapping a minor child by making the minor, pregnant child a ward of the court by declaring the child emancipated by the fact of her pregnancy without proper notification of the child’s parents, who have a naturally vested legal interest in the child. The court does this to a child who may be pregnant and does so to abort the child’s parents’ grandchild.
    Overriding naturally vested parental rights entrusted to parents innocent of any proved wrongdoing is contrary to American jurisprudence and constitutes legal kidnapping by the state, false imprisonment and restraint.

  • A great post.

    “Where does this automatic distrust of parents come from anyway?”

    I think maybe distrust of parents comes along with the strengthening of the “youth culture”. Maybe some of it comes from whole gnerations going to public schools and getting together with their peer posses. When they were educated at home things were a bit different and maybe mom and dad ‘s opinion had a stronger influence.

    Charles is in charge. Two year olds are in charge.
    The two First Children of the POTUS are in charge. What do you decide about gay marriage girls? Ok.

    Children are a target market; recognized at economic deciders in families. TV and movies are more and more juvenile because that is who the customers are.

  • To be fair, there are some appalling parents out there, and many girls who have abortions got into trouble in the first place because they didn’t have trustworthy parents. But.

    But for the pure and simple public health and safety of minors, parental consent needs to be secured for any kind of serious medical event, much less for abortion. If I were pro-choice, I’d want parents to at least have as much control over abortion as over teeth cleaning.

  • I think parents who prove that they can be trusted have children who trust them. I’ve seen people with open and loving relationships and it comes from parents willing to listen instead of lecturing. If you want that kind of relationship with your child that they will come to you, you need to be the kind of person that someone would want to go to for advice. Anyone, not just your child. If you have proven yourself to be judgmental, you cannot blame a child for not going to you for advice, or with their problems. after all, would YOU go to a friend with your problems if you knew rather than listen to you they were going to force their values on you rather than take yours into account?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Capitalism is the cure for poverty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Double Standard?

    Omnia Vincit Veritas

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

Chart Of The Day: Whose Wages Are Stagnating?

Thursday, February 16, AD 2012

I’d been fooling around with Census data a bit over the last week. Here’s an interesting chart using Census Table P-36. Full-Time, Year-Round All Workers by Median Income and Sex: 1955 to 2010

Median income for full-time working men first hit 50,000 (in inflation adjusted 2010 dollars) in 1973, and it has been essentially flat ever since (breaking 50k for the second time in 2010.) However, the median income of full-time working women has gone up 35% since 1973. The percentage of full time workers who are women has also increased gradually throughout that time, from 30% in 1973 to 43% in 2010. (In absolute numbers, obviously both the number of male and female full time workers has increased significantly during the same period.)

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8 Responses to Chart Of The Day: Whose Wages Are Stagnating?

  • Interesting how Mens’ real wages, which in cold hard fact are the historical standard since women have just that recently begun to enjoy improvement in pay across the board, have not changed since Nixon dislodged the dollar from that pesky Gold Standard. Yet, there’s tremendous growth when compared to the stable, productive 1950s. Fiat Money!

    I would venture to guess that Womens’ wages will plateau eventually.

  • Revision: Tremendous growth UNTIL THAT POINT when compared to the 1950s. Sorry.

  • Does the push for women’s equality in the workforce act as a cap on male productivity and wages?

    An office of highly productive men must work extra hard to promote women, lest it be sued for discrimination. So why should the men work as hard, if they’ll be less likely to get promoted anyway?

    While sometimes it’s just bitterness to claim that less qualified women are promoted over more qualified men, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is indeed the case in many companies.

  • Forgive all injuries.

    I agree with Kevin.

    I’ve been in the big corporate world since before affirmative action.

    In the old days, managers’ annual HR performance “ratings” had to contain a statement to the effect that “so-and-so actively supports the EEO program and treats all personnel fairly and equally.”

    Now, it’s the opposite. Corporations are required to discriminate (in employment, promotion) to ensure equal outcomes (“disparate treatment”/”effects tests rule” – accomplishments, education, experience, knowledge, skills be damned) for protected classes.

    In bank lending, they imposed Equal Credit Opportunity Act, CRA, Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, etc., and it’s all, “The bank doesn’t make enough affordable housing loans or loans to protected classes in “red-lined” areas! The government forces the highly-regulated to advance more loans and to hell with repayment capacity or any other credit decision factor.”

    Back to employment. HR needs to report its numbers. In promotions, that means minimally qualified protected class members are promoted over more highly accomplished white males. That leads to resource misallocations and inefficiencies, as Kevin indicates.

  • Kevin J,

    If anything, I think the more accurate way to look at it is that because white males had such a big advantage to start with, once employment became more of an strict matter of supply and demand rather than preferences, white men found themselves overvalued compared to other people capable of doing similar amounts of work.

    Even that is massively over simplified, though. A lot of what has shifted during the last 40 years is who is doing what kind of work, who has what kind of education, and how much various kinds of work are worth. For instance, women now make up a majority of college graduates, which definitely was not the case 40 years ago. Also, you have traditionally male industries like construction and manufacturing struggling, while more traditionally female industries like health care and education are doing relatively well.

    While it’s true that if there is an office somewhere in which men honestly don’t think they’ll get promoted because of preferences, those men probably won’t work as hard, I can’t say that I’ve ever run into such an office.

  • Another way to look at the wages is to consider them in the light of family breakdown. Married men tend to be the most productive, and with the decline in marriage that will manifest in lower male productivity and wages. Men paying alimony to ex-wives they now dislike or despise may have less incentive to earn.

    As for whether women are being promoted or hired in place of equal or more capable men, there are lots of incentives to do so.

    Many big companies have special women’s groups for networking purposes that aren’t available to men (and seem to be heavily feminist). Many government contracts have quotas for women-owned business and businesses with X percentage of women in management positions. If women aren’t men’s equals for a given position, then these structures are promoting less effective employees. If women are equal to men for a given position, then these structures give them the upper hand in the competition for jobs.

    I’m sure these pressures depend on the industry, too. An editor with a major local newspaper told me of the sinking feeling he gets when his hiring team heads to a diversity job fair knowing that he has to hire someone just on the basis of diversity. I wager feminist groups are more interested in news media, academia, government or law firms than IT or engineering fields.

  • Here’s an example of how feminist policies pressure companies to hire women:

    Carrollwood hydrant project delayed by lack of women on crews

    So you have a company that could save $16,000 for a city contract and is racially diverse enough to meet other standards, but doesn’t have enough women skilled laborers.

    The contract will likely go to someone with better feminist recruitment policies, costing men their jobs, costing cities more money, and strengthening feminist economic and cultural power (which in the American context relies upon, and promotes, contraception and abortion).

  • I agree that the idea of turning down a construction contracting company because they don’t have “enough” female workers is deeply silly (and I tend to be against racial or sex quotas in virtually all circumstances) — but color me skeptical that this sort of situation is responsible for much of the graph that I posted.

    First off, one of the things to keep in mind is that a graph like this shows aggregate data. It doesn’t mean that individual men do not get raises. Typically, a worker starts out making less and increases his income throughout most of his life. What this is looking at is: If you take the average all all workers (those in early career, mid career and late career, and spread across growing industries and dying industries) and you adjust for inflation, male wages have been fairly stagnant for the last 40 years while female wages have increased 35%.

    Now if one considers a couple basic facts, I think the logic of how something like this works will seem fairly obvious.

    1) Up until a gradual change stretching from the 50s through the 70s, married women were expected to stay home or at most work part time, not as many women went to college as men, women were often paid less even for doing the same work, and many careers were considered closed to women.

    2) During the 70s through the 90s, these trends pretty much all reversed: Women are expected to work full time even after marriage, women started going to college at the same rate as men (now more women graduate from college than men), women are generally paid the same for the same work, few to no careers are considered off limits for women.

    3) While, on average, certain abilities are stronger in one sex or the other (men tend to be stronger, women tend to be more empathetic, etc.) neither sex is massively more able than the other.

    If we accept these three points, it seems fairly obvious that over the last the number of Americans competing for many jobs has gone up 30-40% as more women have come into the workforce. When supply goes way up, you would expect that the price would not increase as rapidly. So with the percentage of Americans working going way up, and women having an equal chance on most jobs, you’d expect the average income of female workers to go up much more rapidly for quite some time, while you’d expect the average income of men to stagnate for a while.

    Think of it this way: 40 years ago, the pool of applicants for the best jobs was heavily male. Now it’s much more 50/50. Even if we assume no preferences and that women win no more than 50% of these jobs, the result is that the percentage of these jobs held down by men will go down. So while among workers over 55, most of the highest paying jobs might be held by men, for workers around 30 the split might be much more 50/50.

    Even given just that set of factors, you’d expect to see a patter such as what we’ve seen for about the length of a full career after we reached a point of fairly equal opportunity: Say, for about 30-40 years starting in the late 70s or early 80s.

    However, wider economic changes are probably throwing things off even more, since in point of fact there are different aptitudes and preferences for men and women, and those differences have tended to make certain fields more male or more female. Given that construction and manufacturing both tend to be heavily male, and that they’ve both been struggling a huge amount over the last while, this probably depresses the male average even more than we’d expect otherwise.

    Again, I don’t support quotas, and I think that examples like what you point out are pretty appalling. But I just don’t think that’s what’s driving the trend. And although I’ve run into the ineffective affirmative action hire from time to time, I’ve at least as often (if not more often) run into the ineffective male employee who everyone keeps transferring around because no one can get rid of him, or the ineffective but highly decorative female employee that some male manager hired over more qualified candidates because he likes to look at her during meetings. All of these types are frustrating to have to deal with, but I don’t really think any of them are so big a trend as to be driving our economic statistics or shaping our society.

Catholicism and “Neoliberalism”: Strawmen Are Often Contrary to Church Teaching

Thursday, January 12, AD 2012

David Cloutier at the Catholic Moral Theology blog links approvingly to a post at dotCommonweal addressing Romney’s political views which asks whether “neoliberalism” (the which is here used to mean something along the lines of free market capitalism) and Catholicism can ever be compatible. He says:

Superb exchange going on over at dotCommonweal over a post about how certain political conservatives, like Rick Santorum or Michael Gerson, try to reconcile their Catholicism with the neoliberal paradigm. For once, even the comment thread is worth reading!

I think this is an important – if not THE important – debate about Catholicism and politics in the current election. Often, the debate over particular policies dominates, but in fact, what we should be looking at are the basic principles of the economic order. If a candidate fundamentally contradicts the basic principles, Catholics should have reservations about supporting him. In the post referred to above, “neoliberalism” is cast in terms of a pure free-market conception, in which governments take a minimal role in economic activity, providing for enforcement of contracts, a stable currency, etc. – protection against “force and fraud.” Others claim that Gerson forthrightly support subsidiary actors – such as families, community organizations, and churches – and so is not in fact individualist.

The (frequently made) mistake here is one that goes back to Edmund Burke, that “father” of conservatism. Burke seeks to deal with nascent industrial capitalism by (Warning: blogging oversimplification ahead…) distinguishing between a sphere of “culture” (or “civil society”) that can be fostered, and refuses to attribute social problems to the mechanisms of the market itself. He defends the market as good, over against the landed establishment (the “nobles”) of the pre-industrial order, which is who he is opposing. But for him, the market is not all there is. (One sometimes sees a variant of this in defending Adam Smith by noting one must read both The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments.)

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6 Responses to Catholicism and “Neoliberalism”: Strawmen Are Often Contrary to Church Teaching

  • “First, Burke (like Adam Smith, in this way) is writing prior to the advent of large, joint-stock corporations.”

    That is historical rubbish. The East India Company for example, a behemoth joint stock company of Burke’s day, was chartered in 1599. Smith wrote about the East India Company: “While the East India Company had been a trading endeavor, it had provided great service to the state and its people, justifying the monopoly privileges and helping its stockholders’ dividends to growth. After territorial expansion occurred, this role and its privileges required revision, for Company interests were at cross purposes with those of the state.”

    When someone makes such an elementary historical mistake like this, it is difficult to take them very seriously

  • Yeah, I had to pick what to go after, but I think that the idea that Burke and Smith had an overly rosy idea of what capitalism because it hadn’t got big enough yet strikes me as springing form a simplistic kind of anachronism in which one assumes that everything was simpler in the “old days”. Joint stock companies were, obviously, both huge and very, very powerful in the 1700s. (Heck, the East India Company had its own army.) And Smith and Burke weren’t naive about the temptations of capitalism. It was, after all, Smith who said, “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public.”

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  • Hi – Thanks for the attention to my post. It is just a blog post. I am familiar with the extensive ventures organized at joint-stock corporations prior to the 19th century. In nearly all cases, these were (if I am not mistaken) more or less official government-chartered monopolies that made possible extensive investments (i.e. in trade). By “joint-stock corporation” I am speaking about the common usage today, for an eneterprise that is not a kind of state-sponsored monopoly. Mr McClarey comment from Smith indicates the clear purpose of such corporations (i.e. to serve BOTH the state and the shareholders), and that such corporations should have their privileges revised if they no longer serve the state. This seems a far cry from the way joint-stock corporations have functioned for the last century-plus, to which I was referring in my post.

  • Yes David, you are mistaken. Corporations had to be granted existence by Parliament, but they operated in precisely the same way as large publicly traded corporations do today. They often got into bed with government, as Adam Smith noted and dreaded, just as such corportations do today.

Do Greeks Work Harder Than Germans?

Wednesday, December 21, AD 2011

Matt Yglasias has a piece in Slate attempting to counter the “if the Euro is going to work, Greeks are going to have to learn to work hard like Germans” line of thinking.

It’s true that Germans and Greeks work very different amounts, but not in the way you expect. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the average German worker put in 1,429 hours on the job in 2008. The average Greek worker put in 2,120 hours. In Spain, the average worker puts in 1,647 hours. In Italy, 1,802. The Dutch, by contrast, outdo even their Teutonic brethren in laziness, working a staggeringly low 1,389 hours per year.

If you recheck your anecdata after looking up the numbers, you’ll recall that on that last trip to Florence or Barcelona you were struck by the huge number of German (or maybe they were Dutch or Danish) tourists around everywhere.

The truth is that countries aren’t rich because their people work hard. When people are poor, that’s when they work hard. Platitudes aside, it takes considerably more “effort” to be a rice farmer or to move sofas for a living than to be a New York Times columnist. It’s true that all else being equal a person can often raise his income by raising his work rate, but it’s completely backward to suggest that extraordinary feats of effort are the way individuals or countries get to the top of the ladder. On the national level the reverse happens—the richer Germans get, the less they work.

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15 Responses to Do Greeks Work Harder Than Germans?

  • Culture is very important when it comes to productivity. Some cultures simply produce far more disciplined and efficient workers than other cultures. It is not politically correct these days to say it, but like many un pc facts of our human condition it is obvious to anyone who has even a cursory knowledge of the world.

  • I wouldn’t say “Germans work harder than Greeks” is anywhere near the mark (little financial pun there). I would say Germans work smarter than Greeks is probably closer.

  • That is not an explanation for continued German solvency.

    One explanation is that the Greek public sector/government expenditures grew at a far faster rate than the private, producing economy grew; and the ratio of Greeks mooching off the government to producers is higher than in Germany.

    In conclusion, when you read this arrogant teenager’s gossip, you are wasting eyesight and the most precious asset you have: time.

  • Three questions to qualify the datum on mean hours per worker:

    1. What share of the population in Germany and what share in Greece were gainfully employed during the course of the most recent completed business cycle in each country?

    2. What was the ratio of personal consumption to personal income in Germany and in Greece over the most recent completed business cycle in each country?

    3. What was the ratio of public sector borrowing to domestic product in each over the course of the most recent completed business cycle?

  • I would refer all those interested to Thomas Sowell’s amazing book; “Black Rednecks & White Liberals.” He used data from the imigrant experience to paint an amazing picture of why some cultures immediately began to thrive in American while others took longer. Some of the information was very helpful to my book, especially as it pertains to faith and salvation and their particular views on what God expects of them. Some more fundamentalist groups believed that work, education and upward mobility were not nearly as important as proclaming yourself “saved,” (so much for the Parable of the Talents!)

    In addition some Eastern European had far less experience with commerce and Capitalism as compared to their Western European neighbors. Recently, this divide was readily apparent in the Balkan Wars of the 1990s; Slovenia had little use for Serbia and vice versa, both had very different ideas on government and indiviudal’s role in society.

  • It’s called easy access to cheap energy, and for the Germans with their phase-out of nuclear energy, that may well end.

    Look at the two faming photos you gave, Darwin: one a subsistence farmer using a sickle to get his grain, and the other using massive machinery fueled by easy access to petroleum. It’s energy, its access and its utilization that makes ALL the difference. Indeed, why does France do so relatively well in spite of socialism? a 70% nuclear generating capacity that keeps electric rates low and allows exports to non-nuclear countries like Italy.

    Low cost, easy access energy – whoever has the most will prosper.

  • Right, Darwin. I suspect Matt Yglesias is being disingenuous here, because I’m sure he understands vMPL = w (value of marginal product of labor equals the wage rate) from his Microeconomics 101. It has everything to do with productivity and output price, and only partially relates to hours worked.

  • Paul, nuclear is not cheap. Are you advocating heavily subsidizing nuclear like France? Or are you advocating a carbon tax to make nuclear more competitive like France?

  • RR,

    The capital costs of nuclear are more expensive than anything else because we sequester all our own “wastes.” We design safety built-in from the beginning. However, uranium fuel compared with coal or natural gas or oil is cheap.

    Checkout the graph labelled as “US Electricity Production Costs 1995 – 2008” here:

    If you as a fossil fuel supplier were allowed to use the atmosphere as your sewer without cost, you could market yourself as cheap, also. But in reality, once a nuke is built, it’ll last for 60 years and is cheapest of all.

    There’s lots of disinformation out there.

    BTW, if a coal plant had to abide by the same radiation standards as a nuke plant has to, then not a single coal plant would be operating. Why? Because of the uranium, thorium and radium that naturally occurs in coal which is dumped willy-nilly into the environment.

    Yet 52% of US electricity comes from coal. Go figure!

  • Yet 52% of US electricity comes from coal. Go figure!

    I hate to nitpick an otherwise excellent comment, but we’re now down to about 45% on coal. We’re headed to natural gas taking the lead in the next 20 years or so.

  • It’s true that modern agriculture (as shown in my pictorial example) relies heavily on fossil fuels, but I think it’s probably reasonable to believe that modern engineering could come up with other ways to engage in mass agriculture.

    I’m certainly very much in favor of nuclear energy, but I don’t think it would be accurate to attribute much of the difference in productivity between Germany and Greece to choice of primary electricity generation activity. Germany (and France, though to a somewhat lesser extent) have a pretty long history of industry and productivity. Countries like Greece (or even Spain and Italy) have a pretty long history of trailing.

    That’s not necessarily the Greeks “fault” (there are some external factors that influenced their culture like being sat on for quite a while by the Turks, who had a talent for messing up the peoples they ruled) but it seems like it’s something that springs from a variety of factors including cultural and economic attitudes.

  • Paul,

    I know the link thing gets really frustrating. I just went and found what I think is the right setting and changed it, so I believe you should be able to post up to five links per comment safely now without getting caught in the filter. Sorry about that.

  • Folks,

    I was travelling today and so could not respond sooner.

    @ Paul Z. – thanks for the correction. This web site – – says:

    49.8% of electricity in the US is generated by burning coal
    19.9% from nuclear power,
    17.9% from natural gas
    6.5% from hydroelectric,
    3% from burning petroleum
    2.3% from other renewable energy sources such as wind power , solar energy , geothermal power, and biomass.

    Different web sources give slightly different figures with about 50% for coal, sometimes more, sometimes less. I tried finding out at, but couldn’t right now.

    @Darwin – regardless of whether fossil fuel is used or not, agriculture for a planet of 7 billion requires a lot of energy. That energy can be supplied by hydrogen gas produced using Very High Temperature Reactors, or by liquid fuels derived from coal, or by oil, or by natural gas, but it has to come from somewhere. No access to low cost, cheap energy – no big industrialized agriculture – back to the stone age. PS, Greece has no nuclear power plants (as far as I know). The rest of your post I agree with. You’re right.

    Thanks, BTW, for the help with the hyperlink problem. No big deal.

    For everyone, here’s a description of Generation IV Reactors:

    In the 1st paragraph I give embedded hyperlinks to entries on Current Nuclear Reactor Designs, New Nuclear Reactor Designs, and Advanced Nuclear Reactor Designs so that I don’t have to put them all here. I do discuss in this post the very-high-temperature reactor (VHTR) which can be used to produce hydrogen for motor vehicles. Enjoy.

    One more PS, in a few days I will make related to nuclear energy one more entry at my politically incorrect and offensive blog, this time on the Carlo Rubbia Energy Amplifier, a subcritical reactor that is started up using a proton beam accelerator – too complicated to discuss right now, but this idea can “incinerate” all long lived radioactive actinides and provide low cost, pollution free electrical power for millenia on end.

  • Paul, those numbers are a tad outdated. I’m actually updating the numbers at work for 2010, but in 2009, based on EIA (Energy Information Administration) data, the numbers are:
    Coal: 44.5%
    Gas: 23.6%
    Nuclear: 20.2%
    Oil: 1.0%
    Water: 6.8%
    Other (Wind, Solar, etc.): 3.9%

  • Ah, you found it, Paul Z.! I searched and searched EIA and couldn’t find it. Brain cell death. Thanks! Accuracy is a GOOD thing.

And It Begins

Friday, December 2, AD 2011

Newt Gingrich may not be my first choice this primary season, but I have a sinking feeling that left-wingers are going to help me get over whatever reservations I may have.  Newt is getting hammered for comments he made yesterday:

“Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works,” the former House speaker said at a campaign event at the Nationwide Insurance offices. “So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of  ‘I do this and you give me cash,’ unless it’s illegal.”

Gingrich lately has been unspooling an urban policy, beginning with his comments at Harvard University last month when he discussed child labor laws. “It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods,” Gingrich said then, “entrapping children in, first of all, child laws, which are truly stupid.”

Children in poor neighborhoods, he said, should be allowed to serve as janitors in their schools to earn money and develop a connection to the school.

Yes, what an absolutely crazy notion – allowing kids to develop a work ethic early in life.  I mean it’s not like we’ve trained an entire generation of people to just simply expect handouts:

“Somebody needs to be held accountable, and they need to pay.”

But yes, let’s attack Newt Gingrich for suggesting that young people develop work skills at an early age.

I also wonder how many socially “moderate,” economically “conservative” types will see this video and grasp that inconsistency.  Maybe Rick Santorum and Jim DeMint have a point after all.

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7 Responses to And It Begins

  • The problem with his remarks is that slum populations thirty years ago were a jumble, containing low-wage workers, episodic dole recipients, elderly pensioners, and the chronic welfare and career criminal population. (In the intervening years, the number enrolled in the principal long-term dole for the working-aged (AFDC/TANF) has declined by about two-thirds). There are a great many people in the slums who have not properly and truly entered into adult life. However, it is wrong to speak as if no one there has a proper job (though that may be nearly true in certain housing projects).

  • “Children in poor neighborhoods, he said, should be allowed to serve as janitors in their schools to earn money and develop a connection to the school.”

    Having hired people do this work is a fairly recent innovation historically speaking. Prior to World War II many schools would have teachers supervise kids in cleaning schools. Minor repairs were often done by students or their parents.

  • But, but, if kids do some very minor work as early as high school, how will they prepare to do nothing when they hit college?!?!?! What on earth will happen if they get the idea they should work for what they get?


    It bucks the recent flow of history, but I like the idea of making it easier for kids to work. It is a mindset, and it is getting less common.

  • Parts of what Newt said about welfare should divide Republicans.

    “So more Americans now get food stamps therefore and we now give it away as cash. You don’t get food stamps. You get a credit card and the credit card can be used for anything. We’ve had people take their food stamp money and use it to go to Hawaii. And you know, they give food stamps now to millionaires.”

    Food stamps is a stupid program. People will buy food without you having to police them. Sure, they may buy other stuff too which is actually great. We don’t want people buying food they don’t need. Food stamps is an obesity promotion program. Just give them cash like Milton Friedman and Ronald Reagan wanted to do. I might entertain a more paternalistic welfare program when children are involved though.

    As for food stamps for millionaires. It’s happened and it’s legal because eligibility for government programs is usually determined by income, not assets. Do you want a new government bureaucracy auditing assets?

    I do like the the Gingrich make-work program to give people the dignity of work in exchange for welfare. I have suggested the same thing on this blog and it has been discussed (I think it was DarwinCatholic who posted it) and dismissed by most here. Now that Gingrich supports it, it’s taken more seriously. Just goes to show that sometimes perception matters more than policy.

  • I washed dishes and scrubbed floors at the Country Club in my small town all through high school. They paid me the princely sum of a $1.15 per hour, I was allowed to do my homework in slow periods and they fed me a good meal each night. I saved up $3,000.00 for college which was a considerable sum in 1975. I probably learned more that helped me in my future life from that job than in all in my high school courses combined. Before I entered high school I worked at detasseling corn and rogueing corn.

  • Won’t help.

    The weak link – the common denominator – is in that “community” the two parent, father and mother family doesn’t exist.

    I blame Bush.

  • Comedian Larry Wilmore who has a contrarian streak has a devastating piece on the Daily Show about Newt’s child labor program:

    This is yet another example of Gingrich’s “passionate embrace of shallow ideas.” (

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

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

  • Pingback: “Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority” – a roundup of reactions | The American Catholic
  • They should concentrate on saving souls, even if it renders them “irrelevant” to the NYT/CNN crowd, and quit concocting schemes to wreck national economies.

    I apologize in advance.

    It’s infallible ignorance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Home Mortgage Deduction

Tuesday, October 25, AD 2011

There’s some consternation in conservative (and other) circles about tax reform proposals that would eliminate the home mortgage interest deduction.  The deduction is eliminated in most flat tax proposals, though it is not eliminated in the plan Governor Perry laid out today.

It seems to me that, at least in the abstract, a tax reform measure that lowered rates and eliminated such deductions would be fair.  To me all these credits are just a form of social engineering through the tax code.  Believe me, I benefit from these credits and so it would probably be against my self interest to see them go.  On the other hand, my overall rate would decline, so it wouldn’t be a catastrophic change for me.

At any rate, opponents of eliminating this deduction categorically state that it would depress home sales and force others into bankruptcy.  This seems . . .  overstated.  The deduction certainly had no influence on my decision to buy a home, and even if I lost the deduction without a concurrent rate decrease it would hardly force me out onto the streets.  Believe me, I like getting that extra money back, but it isn’t that much money.

Maybe I’m missing something here and the deduction has a much greater influence on people’s decisions to buy or rent than I know.  And maybe I’m just one of those “fat cats” Mitt Romney thinks are the ones who would be the sole beneficiaries under Perry’s plan.  But I fail to see how this simple credit or deduction is that much of a factor in home buying decisions.

I would love feedback on this one.

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7 Responses to The Home Mortgage Deduction

  • I suspect folks don’t think much about the actual economics involved; all the folks who sell houses insist that it’s a big problem, so they trust that those folks know what they’re talking about.
    (Me, I’m not dumb enough to buy property that the county will keep charging me a couple of hundred bucks a year on for eternity, especially not since the local folks decided they can charge retroactive taxes, and charge plots at maximum market value, even if that means it would be subdivided to the max. So we never got to the point of figuring out if we should believe folks who are trying to sell us stuff.)

  • Paul, I agree in the abstract. But I would be reluctant to do away with the deductions now when real estate values are already under such distress.

  • But I guess that gets to the heart of my question about the issue – leaving the world of abstraction, would there actually be an impact in the housing market, and if so, why when the credit is ultimately not that significant as a percent of overall salary, even for a middle income family?

  • These sorts of “gut feeling” economic policymaking are more commonly found on the left and are usually wrong.

    Even if just 5% of distressed homeowners change their behavior that’s at least half a million people.

    Lord, get rid of the mortgage deduction, but not yet.

  • The economic cost of home ownership increases if interest is not deductible. This depresses demand, which will depress price. It is inevitable.
    That said, once pricing stabilizes, it would be good tax policy to phase out mortgage interest deductions over time.

  • I would see two effects –

    1. Anything increasing the cost of home ownership will have some depressing effect on the demand;

    2. Land ownership will be more beneficial for those who can rent out their property because the interest would still be deductible as an operating expense. Seems this would increase the likelihood of fewer people owning the property in which they live. Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know. Our communities are becoming fairly rootless as it is, my guess is this would only increase the phenomenon (home ownership being a pretty big community root for most people).

  • The home purchase decision is driven by the monthly payment in relation to available income. The mortgage interest deduction affects that.

    Tax policy solely should be implemented to efficiently raising revenues to fund the government’s legitimate needs.

    The money you earn (by the Grace of God) is the fruit of your labor and it is your money. Too many people have the belief that it’s the government’s money and the regime allows you to keep more or less or its money based on tax policies like the personal exemption, deductions, credits, the Alternative Minimum Tax, etc.

    The personal exemption (PE) is my tax bugaboo. I view it as the gov’s determination of the maximum amount, per taxpayer and per each of his/her dependents, of your fruits of labor that the rulers allow you to keep. If the PE had been indexed (from the 1930’s) to inflation, it would be about $10,000 (I may be exaggerating) per family member. But, that is anathema. It absolutely would place family ahead of the government money needed to finance Obama’s, Pelosi’s and Reid’s re-elections.

Poverty and Family Type

Monday, October 10, AD 2011

The old saw is that there are lies, damned lies, and statistics, as if statistics were in some way a variety of lie. Of course, the issue is not so much that statistics are lies, as that statistics represent an attempt to simply quantify a terribly complex reality, and with simplification comes the opportunity for error — often error confirming the biases of the person doing the analysis.

The other day I ran into a very interesting exploration of one of those statistics which is often discussed — that “more families are in poverty” after the last three decades than was the case in the past. In 2006 Hoynes, Page and Stevens authored a paper entitled “Poverty in America: Trends and Explanations” which was published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives. One of the interesting things they do is look at the trends in poverty by family type. The findings are fascinating:

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10 Responses to Poverty and Family Type

  • You’d think that the “actual percentage of people in poverty” measurement would be a pretty good middle ground between the two camps. (“Total family poverty then and now” vs “family poverty compared to those in the same situation, then and now.”)

  • (For those wondering if there may be a thumb on the scale because of gov’t aid– the paper is using the Census Bur’s measure of poverty on pre-tax income. I don’t know enough about child support to know if it would count, I believe social security counts and food stamps don’t count.)

  • I don’t believe child support is factored because it is not considered income. Theoretically, a recipient could be classified as being poverty, but objectively wouldn’t be due to child support income (quite likely many divorced/single mothers fall in this camp). Likewise, a payer could be could considered above the poverty line due to gross income, but actually be living below the poverty line when considering the child support paid (quite likely a fair number of divorced/single fathers).

  • This phenomenon discussed in the OP is called Simpson’s Paradox. Look it up, it is quite interesting.

    The most interesting example I can think of is a lawsuit brought against Berkeley(?) by some feminist group, claiming their admissions discriminated by sex. The rate of admissions to the school were not the same, indeed with females getting in less frequently. But when broken down by school or department, it turns out females got in as frequently as males, or more, within each school/department. What’s the explanation? Women tended to apply in much larger numbers to areas which had low admissions for everyone.

    It is easy to lie with statistics. It is easier to lie without them.

  • 46 million…23million, family of 3, 2, black or white. That isn’t the issue; regardless of who it is or how many…It still needs to be resolved! Why do we get so bogged down with subjects “surrounding” the problem but no discussion on THE PROBLEM and a solution?

    Very Confused!

  • The problem: sin.

    The solution: repentance.

    2nd Chronicles 7:14.

  • Very interesting.

    The number of people in poverty as a percentage of total population has been more or less stable for the past 45 years. But I don’t find that stat very useful. On the one hand it doesn’t include things like health insurance, public housing, and food stamps. On the other hand, for political reasons, we haven’t changed the laughably outdated measure of poverty. Officially, making $11K in NYC means you’re out of poverty.

  • RR,
    Why do you think the definition is laughably outdated? While the definition has been relatively static, it requires that the thresholds be reset each year, and they are. So what is outdated about the definition and how would you change it?

  • The poverty guidelines are based entirely on food prices. That even sounds antiquated. If you were to come up with poverty guidelines from scratch today, nobody would even think go first go to the Department of Agriculture to determine how much a household spends on food then multiply it by an arbitrary number.

    The preferred method in the developed world is to set poverty lines at some percentage of median income. This takes into account the reality that poverty is also relative.