Economic & Semantic Ignorance: It Rolls Downhill

Wednesday, March 26, AD 2014

 

Acton’s Power Blog covered yet another piece on Pope Francis’ salvo against the free market today in the run-up to his meeting with President Obama, and the theme is quite familiar: “Pope Francis is not an economist or technocrat laying out policy…”

It seems as though this is now a magic incantation by which anything and everything a person says about economics becomes acceptable and perhaps even praiseworthy. I could be grateful for the fact that there is a subtle implication here: if an actual economist were to say the things about free markets that Francis said, he wouldn’t have much credibility left as an economist.

The plain truth here is that whether or not a person is an economist has nothing to do with the actual nature of the statements they make. Let’s take a look at what Francis himself said in a follow-up interview to Evangelii Guadium:

I wasn’t speaking from a technical point of view, what I was trying to do was to give a picture of what is going on. The only specific quote I used was the one regarding the “trickle-down theories” which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and social inclusiveness in the world. The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger nothing ever comes out for the poor. This was the only reference to a specific theory. I was not, I repeat, speaking from a technical point of view…

With all due respect, these are testable claims about empirical reality. “But what happens instead, is…” Yes, that is an empirical statement. An attempt to “give a picture of what is going on” is an attempt to explain reality. There’s no way out of it: these are “technical” statements, their lack of details or any evidence of systematic economic training notwithstanding. (I’m familiar with the translation controversies too – none of them help his case) Moreover, they are simply false. The world’s poor have benefited immensely from the globalization and liberalization of economies; according to the World Bank, in spite of a 59% increase in population in the developing world, the number of people living in extreme poverty (less than $1.25 per day) has fallen from 50% to 21% in the last 30 years.

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17 Responses to Economic & Semantic Ignorance: It Rolls Downhill

  • I take comfort in the fact that the Vatican could not run an economy more worsely than it runs its bank.

    The following likely does not apply to the Pope, but to his American adulators.

    “Before WWI, America had private monopolies controlled by the dreaded ‘Robber Barons.’ Since WWII, monopolies have been controlled by bureaucrats in Washington.

    Fred Siegel, in his 2013 book about the modern roots of American liberalism, “The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism has Undermined the Middle Class,” notes:
    “[L]iberalism began as a fervent reaction to wartime Wilsonian Progressivism, and it took its current cultural shape in the 1920s well before the Great Depression came crashing down on the country. It was the seminal 1920s that the strong strain of snobbery, so pervasive among today’s gentry liberals, first defined the then nascent ideology of liberalism.

    “Liberalism is anti-business and anti-democratic. It despises the small town business ethic which drove too much of American life. In its place was a heroic model populated by elite experts, writers and social scientists who fundamentally distrust the public and place great confidence in the ‘leading role’ of the state, to borrow the Marxist term. The scorn and fear generated among liberals by the Tea Party movement illustrates the basic contempt that liberals hold for the common man and the American middle class.”

  • [I]f an actual economist were to say the things about free markets that Francis said, he wouldn’t have much credibility left as an economist.

    But he would have his very own column in the New York Times!

  • As Rush Limbaugh has said, the reason poor countries are poor is not capitalism but not enough capitalism.
     
    That makes the score Rush 2, Pope 0

  • Here is another article: the world is getting a bit better, or at least trying to. Not sure what the goings on in the Ukraine will ultimately hold.

    http://www.michigancapitolconfidential.com/19490

  • “satisfying other people’s needs and wants.” Social Justice is satisfying other people’s needs to survive and it is a virtue. Social Justice is giving to the poor what is theirs in Justice. Satisfying other peoples’ wants is not social Justice. It is a free will gift. Money taken by taxes for satisfying other peoples’ wants in not charity. Involuntary “charity” or “social Justice” is taxation without representation and extortion.

  • Oh, I forgot: Demanding involuntary charity or social injustice is a violation of peaceable assembly and it is the dissemination of ignorance.

  • Our pope’s experience of capitalism is in Argentina, not in America. (loose quote from Paul Ryan)

  • “It seems as though this is now a magic incantation by which anything and everything a person says about economics becomes acceptable and perhaps even praiseworthy.”

    – perfect.

  • Pope Francis has no excuse for being this ignorant about economics. There’s a book written by a famous South American economist that explain why capitalism works in some places and doesn’t work in others. “The Mystery Of Capital” by Hernando De Soto has been in print for years, and he’s very well known in South America. It’s incomprehensible that the Holy Father doesn’t know about this book. If he does know about it, I believe he chooses to ignore it.

    Another book I’ll mention that will give some valuable insights into Pope Francis’s life and career is “Francis A Pope For Our Time The Definite Biography” by Luis Rosales and Daniel Olivera. These men are Argentine nationals and have followed Francis’s career for many years. These guy love Francis, so this book is basically a love letter to him. But this “letter” reveals a lot about the man who became Pope. One of the things they mention is rather disturbing to me. That thing is the influence that Peronism and Communism had on the Pope while he was growing up. Shockingly enough, a communist by the name of Esther Ballestrino de Careaga was a great influence on Jorge Bergoglio from the time he was sixteen. He had a friendship with her that lasted until her death in 1972. This friendship, along with the Peronism, is probably the reason why his ideas on economics are so faulty.

    Another good source for information on our current Pope is http://romancatholicworld.wordpress.com/ Most of the information on Jorge Bergoglio career and life has been in Italian or Spanish. The lady who runs this site is a Cuban named de Stuart, and she translates many articles and parts of articles about Francis into English. I’d advise the readers of TAC to go to and bookmark this site, because we can only understand the man who became our pope by seeing him in the soil he sprouted from, grew up in , and became a man in.

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  • “Economic & Semantic Ignorance: It Rolls Downhill”

    This is a new twist for me. I always was taught and observed that s*#t, mostly floated!

  • I wish I am something erudite and profound to say. Sadly I do not, and even more sadly I am very disappointed in Pope Francis. He is the Vicar of Christ on Earth, and there is a reason that the Holy Spirit had him ascend the Seat of St. Peter. But he knows little to nothing about economics and worse, he is unaware of his own ignorance in these matters.

    🙁

  • Stephen E Dalton on Thursday, March 27, A.D. 2014 at 7:31am Pope Francis has no excuse for being this ignorant about economics.

    I must agree Stephen. I would add to the Holy Father’s reading list Centesimus Annus. To speak ‘technically’ under the prudential rubric carries with it an obligation to speak in an informed manner….or the humility to speak not at all.

  • Paul, just to be clear — there is no Catholic teaching that suggests that papal selections or elections are divinely inspired. The Church is protected against an infallible teaching that is erroneous, no more. We’ve had some incredibly bad popes — the Holy Spirit had nothing to do with it.

    cthemfly25, I agree completely. CA’s counsel should have wider currency. Most Americans feel free to speak passionately and freely, unencumbered by information, facts, or reflection.

  • Upon reading my last post I fear I should clarify — my comment to cthemfly25 was completely unrelated to my comment to Paul.

  • The Holy Father is a product of his enviornment. Argentina has almost always been a turbulent country, politically and economically. Argentina has a population larger than Canada and had the world’s seventh largest economy in the year 1900, less than a century after becoming independent of Spain.

    Apparently Cardinal Bergoglio did little travel – or none – outside his home diocese and thus has little exposure to other parts of the world. Wojtyla and Ratzinger traveled a lot before becoming cardinals.

    Other than his words, the most troubling part of the current papacy is the resurgence of the “catholic” radicals. The next most troubling is the treatment and words directed at traditional Catholics, including the FFI.

    The Church hierarchy has historically shown a fragile grasp at economic thought. As earlier put, the Vatican Bank is often proof that a 7 year old with a lemonade stand in July could run a business better than the Curia.

  • “It is an intolerable abuse, and to be abolished at all cost, for mothers on account of the father’s low wage to be forced to engage in gainful occupations outside the home to the neglect of their proper cares and duties, especially the training of children.” Pope Pius XI Quadragesimo Anno

A False Anthropological Dichotomy

Monday, March 10, AD 2014

Not long ago I examined an article by Patrick J. Deneen concerning the intellectual divide between American Catholics. If you will recall, Deenen divides American Catholics into a pro-America/liberal camp and an anti-America/illiberal or “radical” camp. At the heart of this divide, so they say (I will challenge this below) is an alleged conflict of “anthropologies”; it appears to be common currency on the illiberal side of the debate. Liberals – and to be clear, we’re talking about classical liberals for the most part – supposedly hold to an anthropological view that is self-centered and individualistic. Worse yet, in this view, human beings are allegedly driven primarily by fear and greed (when they aren’t gratifying their basest urges). All of this contemporary classical liberals are alleged to hold as demonstrated irrevocably by the laws of microeconomics and the sophisticated and often indecipherable mathematical models of neoclassical economists. Dig a bit deeper and the whole rotten anti-Christian edifice can be traced back to John Locke, whose “possessive individualism” birthed the demon-spawns of Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson and gave us the American commercial republic.

The reality, of course, is quite different. The fundamental value of classical liberalism is not “individualism”, but liberty. But the nature of liberty is such that only individuals can exercise it, for the human race is not a hive mind; each human being possesses his or her own intellect and will and is, barring some defect, responsible for the decisions they make. Metaphysical libertarianism, which is the position that human beings have free will, is a foundational assumption of Christianity (and indeed of any ethical system that presupposes human beings can make moral choices). It is also the foundational moral and methodological assumption of classical liberal sociology, political theory and economics. People are free by nature, and cannot be studied as if they were not free. And because we are free by nature, we are gravely harmed if we are unnecessarily restricted in our liberty by other men, including and especially governments.

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28 Responses to A False Anthropological Dichotomy

  • For some reason I cannot share this on Facebook . . . no button.

  • “But the nature of liberty is such that only individuals can exercise it…”

    That is just what Lord Acton denied. Of the liberal parliamentary democracy of his own day, he argues that “It condemns, as a State within the State, every inner group and community, class or corporation, administering its own affairs; and, by proclaiming the abolition of privileges, it emancipates the subjects of every such authority in order to transfer them exclusively to its own. It recognises liberty only in the individual, because it is only in the individual that liberty can be separated from authority, and the right of conditional obedience deprived of the security of a limited command.” Thus, “Under its sway, therefore, every man may profess his own religion more or less freely; but his religion is not free to administer its own laws. In other words, religious profession is free, but Church government is controlled. And where ecclesiastical authority is restricted, religious liberty is virtually denied.”

    In the temporal sphere, too, the Tudor despotism was made possible by the destruction of the old territorial nobility in the Wars of the Roses; Henry VIII could send More and Fisher to the scaffold. Charles V could not send John of Saxony or the Margrave of Hesse or the burghers of the Free Cities to the scaffold. Their “conditional obedience” was secured by “a limited command,” the authority they exercised in their own domains and in the loyalty of their dependants. A state that can neither protect nor punish cannot oppress.

  • This is the reason so-called social sciences are not sciences.

    In a real science, the hypothesis is defined. Experiments and/or tests are run to prove or disprove the hypothesis. If the tests fail, scientists recognize it. They don’t resort to hysterics.

    Quoted at Cafe Hayek: From page 168 of the 5th edition (1966) of Karl Popper’s 1945 study, “The Open Society and Its Enemies”:

    “Aestheticism and radicalism must lead us to jettison reason, and to replace it by a desperate hope for political miracles. This irrational attitude which springs from intoxication with dreams of a beautiful world is what I call Romanticism. It may seek its heavenly city in the past or in the future; it may preach ‘back to nature’ or ‘forward to a world of love and beauty’; but its appeal is always to our emotions rather than to reason. Even with the best intentions of making heaven on earth it only succeeds in making it a hell – that hell which man alone prepares for his fellow-men.”

    Liberals/progressives substitute emotions for data, facts, meaning, truth. They have no decency and will viciously attack you. The lying dung beetles lack the smallest iota of moral or intellectual authority. Just tell it to them. Then, ask, “What evidence do you have?” “Compared to what?” And ask ”How much will it cost? They find it all highly traumatic.

    Central planning by credentialed geniuses who know better than we the people.

    Collectivists

    Command economy

    Group think

    Hive mentality

    The Borg

    Resistance is futile!

  • We did not invent the Federal Reserve System, which is directly responsible for the reckless behavior of the large banks and corporations.

    [rolls eyes]

    All of the talk about “false anthropology” is really a smokescreen for an alternative economic system that, when taken to its logical implications, is authoritarian, irrational and undesirable.

    Shuffling through his bibliography, I will wager that Deneen’s mind shuffles through verbiage derived from intellectual history and philosophy and ‘social theory’ and the man would not know an ‘alternative economic system’ from tiddlywinks. A great deal of this sort of talk (on the part of practitioners august and scruffy) seems to default either to efforts to distinguish the speaker from people he fancies vulgar or to distinguish the speaker from agents (e.g. insurance companies) he has elected to scapegoat.

  • Bonchamps,

    While I am broadly sympathetic to your position, I don’t think you are being fair or treating Dennen’s concerns carefully. For example, you say:

    “Classical liberals on the other hand do not desire to let people alone out of sheer indifference, but rather because it is in our view, and in the light of free will, an affront to human dignity to force someone to become something that they don’t wish to be no matter how good it might be for them objectively. Persuasion is as far as we are willing to go, and only for so long as we will be heard. As a slightly secondary matter, force rarely works in the manner intended. People do not fall into line like so many rows of virtuous toy soldiers; instead they turn to black markets run by criminal elements or simply leave for greener, freer pastures.”

    The problem with this is that there are certain goods and services that are not ethically and morally neutral — it is positively evil for society to allow pornography and prostitution (to use two classic examples) to flourish because providing these good and services are evil acts in and of themselves. Yes, I know I’m now bringing in the dreaded “anti-capitalist deontology” — but as Catholics we have to — we cannot do evil so that good may come of it, period. We must oppose evil whenever and wherever we find it. So the State should never be ‘neutral’ about the selling of certain goods and services and therefore some market regulation will always be necessary.

    I think pointing to liberty as a guide can be helpful, but the Church’s notion of the common good is probably better — this makes our work more difficult because we are then left with case by case prudential decisions and for some communities it might serve the common good to ban Walmart (e.g. a place that wants to retain a certain ‘small-town character’ including little shops that can’t compete with a big Walmart), in others it will only limit consumer options and economic growth and people value those goods more than the small-town character. But ignoring the common good for individual liberty is not always wise and doesn’t always give us a government that knows how to govern well.

  • The problem with this is that there are certain goods and services that are not ethically and morally neutral — it is positively evil for society to allow pornography and prostitution

    So, Deneen is arguing with the Libertarian Party and the Reason Foundation. What’s that got to do with the rest of us?

  • Jeffrey S.,

    No one told St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas that legal prostitution was a positive evil that cannot be done for some greater good. Both men advocated exactly that, for exactly that reason.

    “We must oppose evil whenever and wherever we find it.”

    If by “we” you mean us, as individuals, choosing to oppose evil with virtue, yes, I agree. If by “we” you mean the state, then you are arguing for totalitarian government, because men are fallen and evil is everywhere. I prefer the classical approach, which ironically enough developed in the pre-capitalist world. Men will always seek out illicit sex, and there is nothing we can do about it.

    “But ignoring the common good for individual liberty is not always wise and doesn’t always give us a government that knows how to govern well.”

    We can govern ourselves, by and large, because we are free beings with the use of reason. I’m not an anarchist, but I would shrink government down to Grover Norquist levels.

  • here’s a reminder: Pope John Paull II on the US Constitution and Freedom

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2013/09/17/pope-john-paull-ii-on-the-us-constitution-and-freedom/

    freedom gives us the opportunity to do good–

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  • Thank you, Anzlyne: “freedom gives us the opportunity to do good–”
    .
    Need I say more?

  • The notion that Conservatives have been traditionally hostile to state interference is not borne out by history, as Tocqueville notes in his speech of 12 September 1848 to the National Assembly: “And finally, gentlemen, liberty. There is one thing which strikes me above all. It is that the Ancien Régime, which doubtless differed in many respects from that system of government which the socialists call for (and we must realize this) was, in its political philosophy, far less distant from socialism than we had believed. It is far closer to that system than we. The The notion that Conservatives have been traditionally hostile to state interference is not borne out by history, as Tocqueville notes in his speech of 12 September 1848 to the National Assembly: “And finally, gentlemen, liberty. There is one thing which strikes me above all. It is that the Ancien Régime, which doubtless differed in many respects from that system of government which the socialists call for (and we must realize this) was, in its political philosophy, far less distant from socialism than we had believed. It is far closer to that system than we. The Ancien Régime, in fact, held that wisdom lay only in the State and that the citizens were weak and feeble beings who must forever be guided by the hand, for fear they harm themselves. It held that it was necessary to obstruct, thwart, restrain individual freedom, that to secure an abundance of material goods it was imperative to regiment industry and impede free competition. The Ancien Régime believed, on this point, exactly as the socialists of today do. It was the French Revolution which denied this.”
    In France, in Austria, In Russia, in Prussia, in Spain, the “Throne and Altar” Conservatives were all notably dirigiste in their economic views.

  • MPS,

    1. Concision is a virtue.

    2. Early modern economic regulations in France were what they were. What precise bearing does that have on latter-day conflicts over political economy in the United States?

  • The notion that Conservatives have been traditionally hostile to state interference is not borne out by history[.]
    That would be why Bonchamps used the term “classical liberal.”

  • Bonchamps,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments. While it might seem the height of folly to disagree with two of the finest minds in all of Western thought, with all due respect, Saints Augustine and Aquinas are just wrong about legal prostitution. Utilitarian ethics are always going to lead you to hell (e.g. abortion — “but the woman isn’t ready to have a baby at 18 and her life will be so much better if she can just abort”). But putting that argument aside, I notice you ignored my comment about pornography, which is a tendency of defenders of “liberty”, tout court. Obviously, even in wild and crazy free-market America it is possible to envision state regulations that govern restrictions on the market that support a more virtuous culture (think back on the 50s).

    Perhaps, like “Art Deco” you would support certain state regulations of the market. As I said before, I’m actually sympathetic to small, limited government of the Grover Norquist style — I just think that philosophically we need to be careful when we defend small, limited government using the concept of “liberty”. The older American (Puritan) tradition was “ordered liberty”, which had the sense that liberty always entailed social responsibilities (and limits) because “man is not an island” and we are part of families and communities and owe duties to each. This is all part and parcel of Catholic social thought, so I’m sure you agree — just as the idea of subsidiarity (I think) can support a robust federalism and limited, small government in the U.S.

  • “What precise bearing does that have on latter-day conflicts over political economy in the United States?”

    Conservatives, starting with Plautus in 195 BC have always recognised the maxim, “Homo homini lupus” – Man is a wolf to his fellow man. The mass of the people may, indeed, be “weak and feeble beings,” but some few are not and they will form packs to prey on the rest.

    As Turgot saw, “If the supreme power is needlessly limited, the secondary powers will run riot and oppress. Its supremacy will bear no check.” Moreover, “Men who seek only the general good must wound every distinct and separate interest of class,” so no effective government can be the creature of the many. “The problem is to enlighten the ruler, not to restrain him; and one man is more easily enlightened than many.”

    I fancy “Illiberal Catholics,” like their Continental Throne & Altar counterparts, recognise this.

  • Jeffrey S. wrote, “Saints Augustine and Aquinas are just wrong about legal prostitution”
    They may have been wrong on the particular issue, but they recognised an important distinction.
    Similarly, Portalis, one of the commissioners that drew up the Code Napoléon and a Catholic, who had suffered for his faith during the Revolution says, “Christianity, which speaks only to the conscience, guides by grace the little number of the elect to salvation; the law restrains by force the unruly passions of wicked men, in the interests of l’ordre public [public order/public policy]” By way of illustration, he points out that Christianity forbids divorce, whilst the Mosaic law (which was the civil law of the Jewish commonwealth) permitted it.
    Likewise, the new Penal Code, proposed by Louis Michel le Peletier, Marquis de Saint-Fargeau (promulgated September 26 – October 6, 1791) abolished, without a debate, the crimes of blasphemy, sodomy and witchcraft [le blasphème, la sodomie et la sorcellerie] along with other “offences against religion.” They had a good precedent in the Roman jurisprudence: “deorum injuriae diis curae” – Injuries against the gods are the gods’ concern.

  • “The problem is to enlighten the ruler, not to restrain him; and one man is more easily enlightened than many.”
    I fancy “Illiberal Catholics,” like their Continental Throne & Altar counterparts, recognise this.

    Can any earthly prince be so enlightened as to command and control the market?

  • Ernst Schreiber asks, “Can any earthly prince be so enlightened as to command and control the market?”

    No, but he can intervene in it, as he deems appropriate.

  • ” [H]e can intervene in it, as he deems appropriate.”

    That’s the rub now, is it not? Deeming when it’s appropriate to intervene, and when it’s best to stay hands-off?

    And I’m not speaking about easy distinctions, like prostitution, I mean hard ones, like minimum wage laws.

  • Conservatives, starting with Plautus in 195 BC have always recognised the maxim,

    You’re already off the rails here.

    Perhaps, like “Art Deco” you would support certain state regulations of the market.

    I do not think you can carry on economic activity more sophisticated than what you see at a farmers’ market without a body of corporation law, debtor and creditor law, commercial law, and contract law. You need to delineate property ownership and adjudicate disputes concerning ownership and tenure, hence a body of estate law, real property law, and personal property law. Any society needs answers to the question of the degree to which and the circumstances under which a magistrate can coerce a person; answers to those questions inform both the penal code and labor law.

  • Jeffrey,
    .
    “with all due respect, Saints Augustine and Aquinas are just wrong about legal prostitution.”
    .
    I’m not one of these rad-trads who thinks that Aquinas is infallible. I do think that their view on the matter demonstrates that we are not morally obliged to outlaw every immoral act. I think their view was realistic and rational. Look at the way it played out historically; prostitution was more or less legal in certain medieval cities but confined to designated areas of town. I don’t mind the interference of local zoning laws for the sake of public order. Families and children have rights too.
    .
    “Utilitarian ethics are always going to lead you to hell (e.g. abortion — “but the woman isn’t ready to have a baby at 18 and her life will be so much better if she can just abort”).”
    .
    I don’t advocate utilitarian ethics. I think utilitarian considerations have an important place in moral calculations, though. In the case of abortion, we are dealing with the fundamental natural right to life. Utilitarian considerations should not enter the picture; rights are fundamental, personal utility is not. Utility is something properly considered within the broad parameters of fundamental rights, not something that ought to override them.
    .
    “But putting that argument aside, I notice you ignored my comment about pornography, which is a tendency of defenders of “liberty”, tout court. Obviously, even in wild and crazy free-market America it is possible to envision state regulations that govern restrictions on the market that support a more virtuous culture (think back on the 50s).”
    .
    Even our amoral Supreme Court ruled that it was constitutionally acceptable to censor hardcore pornography. It’s an issue I would be happy to leave to the 10th amendment, just like prostitution, and advocate for its ban within my state. The problem we face now is the Internet. It’s barely worth discussing; there is next to nothing we can do about it. You can get all of the magazines off the store shelves, you can close down strip clubs, adult shops and disreputable theaters, but there’s a massive world of filth and degeneracy just a few clicks away. This means we have to confront vice the old fashioned way – by converting people.
    .
    “Perhaps, like “Art Deco” you would support certain state regulations of the market.”
    .
    I do agree with his last post. Corporate law, contract law, etc. are all necessary, there have to be ways to settle disputes, etc. I don’t really consider these “regulations”, though. They don’t impose burdens on the free market for the sake of some do-gooder’s subjective idea of what is best for other people; they help the market function.
    .
    “As I said before, I’m actually sympathetic to small, limited government of the Grover Norquist style — I just think that philosophically we need to be careful when we defend small, limited government using the concept of “liberty”. The older American (Puritan) tradition was “ordered liberty”, which had the sense that liberty always entailed social responsibilities (and limits) because “man is not an island” and we are part of families and communities and owe duties to each. This is all part and parcel of Catholic social thought, so I’m sure you agree — just as the idea of subsidiarity (I think) can support a robust federalism and limited, small government in the U.S.”
    .
    Sure, nothing disagreeable there. I just don’t believe that people can be saved from themselves, or that it is moral to even attempt such a thing.

  • Any society needs answers to the question of the degree to which and the circumstances under which a magistrate can coerce a person; answers to those questions inform both the penal code and labor law.

    Quite right — which is why invoking “liberty” to settle such questions isn’t good enough. We need to look to other sources of wisdom, including Catholic morality/social teaching and/or the natural moral law to help us guide decisions about how best to serve the common good. We must weigh competing claims on the body politic (personal property rights versus other moral goods, like defending the weak or protecting public morals). As I’ve said before (this makes three times), I often think many of these goals can be achieved via local, private civic institutions and when the government needs to step in I prefer local, smaller units of government as outlined in our original Constitution. I’m a State’s rights, 10th Amendment guy who generally favors small government — but again, the question is always how we defend these institutions.

  • They don’t impose burdens on the free market for the sake of some do-gooder’s subjective idea of what is best for other people; they help the market function.

    I will let the lawyers’ here offer their piece. I suspect you can find moral and ethical notions incorporated within commercial law, bankruptcy law, and contract law.

  • I agree that prostitution should be illegal, but do regard the decision as requiring a prudential analysis even though prostitution is intrinsically evil always. It is folly to place in the hands of the state the putative ideal that all evils should be criminalized. The evil accomplished by any attempted execution of such a principle would be appalling. Indeed, this is the only rational defense of the pro-choice position — that the wrong of abortion is compounded by state intrusions upon personal privacy — a view that simply cannot withstand honest scrutiny. That said, I am of the view that all laws are essentially prudential in nature, meaning that it requires judgment and discernment to determine which evils should be criminalized and implicate state enforcement. Some are easy calls, such as abortion and other murders; others are more difficult such as pornography; and still others are easy for different reasons, such as remarriage after divorce. Of course, laws reflect culture and vice versa, and sometimes laws can be prescriptive for a culture rather than just describing its embedded norms. Presumably the healthier the culture the greater its ability enact and enforce laws in complete alignment with natural law, but we will always be assessing degrees given man’s fallen nature. I do think prostitution should be illegal, but that does not mean Aquinas and Augustine were wrong. Much depends on the era and its culture, and that even includes enforcement ability and tactics. Those who advocate a system of laws that is coextensive with morality, as opposed to being simply informed by morality, will lead us to a Hell on earth.

  • AD,

    I’m not suggesting that business law is devoid of ethics. A system that protects against force and fraud is an ethical system. A system designed to save people from themselves at the expense of others – what Sumner decried as A and B taking from C to give to X – claims to be ethical but is really a tyranny.

  • “Utility is something properly considered within the broad parameters of fundamental rights, not something that ought to override them.”

    Well said.

    “The problem we face now is the Internet. It’s barely worth discussing; there is next to nothing we can do about it.”

    I’m going to agree to disagree. Technology provides problems and solutions. Take filtering software — seems reasonable to install in public places like libraries. But libraries object because of ‘First Amendment’ worries. Nonsense — public morality should take precedence.

    “It is folly to place in the hands of the state the putative ideal that all evils should be criminalized.” [this was Mike’s comment]

    I agree — I suspect that ultimately I only disagree with Bonchamps (and maybe others on this comment thread) over the use of some rhetoric and over some prudential considerations about where to draw the line over state action. Unlike Bonchamps, I do believe that at times the state can help people “save them from themselves”, or at least make it easier for parents and communities to create an environment in which the human person can flourish. I’m basically talking about a return to the public morality of the 1950s — not the Middle-Ages.

  • “Likewise, the new Penal Code, proposed by Louis Michel le Peletier, Marquis de Saint-Fargeau (promulgated September 26 – October 6, 1791) abolished, without a debate, the crimes of blasphemy, sodomy and witchcraft [le blasphème, la sodomie et la sorcellerie] along with other “offences against religion.” They had a good precedent in the Roman jurisprudence: “deorum injuriae diis curae” – Injuries against the gods are the gods’ concern.” Injuries against the gods are the gods’ concern.”
    .
    “Injuries against the gods are scandals and seduction of infant, un-emancipated and minor citizens, and contrary to the general welfare and the common good; public policy. If the children learn to blaspheme God, what will they do to their parents? If the children learn to cast evil spells or deny the human soul through sodomy, how will they come to recognize their immortal soul? How will they come to see beauty and know the truth when all they have seen is ugly? How will they come to realize their innocence and Justice after it has been erased from their memory? It is contrary to human nature and human rights.
    .
    Is that why there are so many zombie films on TV?

  • Art Deco wrote, “I will let the lawyers’ here offer their piece. I suspect you can find moral and ethical notions incorporated within commercial law, bankruptcy law, and contract law…”

    Iuris praecepta sunt haec: honeste vivere, alterum non laedere, suum cuique tribuere, says Ulpian in the Digest { Dig.1.1.10.1 Ulpianus 1 reg] – These are the precepts of the law: to live uprightly, not to harm another, to give to each his own.

    Contract law is replete with the notion of good faith and there are remedies aplenty for fraud, accident, mistake and breach of confidence. Bankruptcy is all about a fair sharing of limited resources between creditors and, in Europe at least, protection of the vulnerable, by giving priority for arrears of wages.

    The law of delict is based on the obligation of the wrongdoer to make reparation. Property law, too, often has to adjudicate between the owner deprived of possession by some rogue and the bona fide possessor.

Murray Rothbard & Catholic Political Thought

Tuesday, September 18, AD 2012

Traditionalist Catholics are typically not fans of Murray Rothbard. And yet as I read more of his work, I find more reasons to appreciate Rothbard’s insights into political theory, which I believe were shaped by a deeper appreciation for the Catholic political and philosophical tradition than some are willing to admit. It is easy to see Rothbard as nothing more than a secular Jewish atheist who opposed “the Old Order” and supported unrestricted personal liberty. And yet he spent his final years advocating for Pat Buchanan’s presidential run and his socially conservative platform.

That there is an affinity for Catholicism in Rothbard’s thought is not surprising. He identifies the Catholic countries, above all Austria, as the originators of subjective-utility economics, while Protestant countries such as Britain developed more labor-centric economic theories. The Catholic tradition had identified consumption (in moderation) as a worthwhile activity and goal; the Calvinist tradition emphasized hard labor as the primary good and consumption as a necessary evil at best. He writes:

Conversely, it is no accident that the Austrian School, the major challenge to the Smith-Ricardo vision, arose in a country that was not only solidly Catholic, but whose values and attitudes were still heavily influenced by Aristotelian and Thomist thought. The German precursors of the Austrian School flourished, not in Protestant and anti-Catholic Prussia, but in those German states that were either Catholic or were politically allied to Austria rather than Prussia.

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8 Responses to Murray Rothbard & Catholic Political Thought

  • Interesting, Bonchamps. Am curious as to what others will say.

  • The Rothbard essay you link, “The Progressive Era and the Family”, was one of the most viewpoint-affecting essays I’ve read about U.S. Catholic history, and remains so.

    Have any more mainstream historians backed up his interpretation or given it a critical analysis? I’d like to get a second opinion.

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  • The “statue in the center of the room” of Austrian School economics, Ludwig von Mises, originated a conceptual study called “praxeology,” or, simply, the study of human action. It is based on the prime supposition that “People Do Things.” The next time some liberal relativist makes that sophomoric challenge, “Name one absolute truth,” throw that one at him. It cannot be denied and once you have the buy-in, the rest is dominoes.

    From that basic truth, all action is informed by the values held by individuals acting in concert or opposition to all other individuals in any given sphere. In this progression, the inevitable outcome is a nation either built freely from the ground up by moral, informed and educated citizens, or imposed via state coercion from the top down on indoctrinated subjects, a la the Peoples’ Democratic Party.

    There can be no State, no society, no community without individual, Created persons. The Liberty given us as a gift from God Almighty is our birthright, second only to the Salvation of Christ. The Church holds the teachings we need to obtain the promises of both to the best of our abilities.

  • Good article, Bonchamps. Rothbard’s affinity for Catholic thought is often evident in his writings. Even when he goes wrong–such as on the issue of abortion–he still respectfully characterizes Catholic opposition to abortion, as he wrote in “For a New Liberty” (1973):

    “For the libertarian, the “Catholic” case against abortion, even if finally rejected as invalid, cannot be dismissed out of hand. For the essence of that case—not really “Catholic” at all in a theological sense—is that abortion destroys a human life and is therefore murder, and hence cannot be condoned. More than that, if abortion is truly murder, then the Catholic—or any other person who shares this view—cannot just shrug his shoulders and say that “Catholic” views should not be imposed upon non-Catholics. Murder is not an expression of religious preference; no sect, in the name of “freedom of religion,” can or should get away with committing murder with the plea that its religion so commands. The vital question then becomes: Should abortion be considered as murder?”

  • A good post — thank you, Bonchamps.

    It seems a book to engage on this topic (one which I would like to see discussed by somebody who is acquainted with Rothbard) is Christopher Ferrara’s The Church and the Libertarian: A Defense of the Catholic Church’s Teaching on Man, Economy, and State — have you read it?

  • Christopher,

    I have read Ferrara’s book. It is an ignorant polemic that does not take the object of its critique seriously. It’s full of strawmen and wildly inaccurate claims. It does make some good points, I’ll grant, but they’re rather obvious points that aren’t going to convince any serious thinker to avoid the Austrian school.

  • W K Aitken

    “People do things” – Indeed.

    This obvious truth can easily by obscured by a sort of sleight of hand, by focusing, not on actions, but on their results. As the great Catholic historian, Lord Acton, explains, “That which is done is become a material external product, altogether independent of the interior determination, or free-will, which motivated or gave the first occasion of its existence. Hence no examination of these facts, apart from the consciousness of the doers of them, can possibly give us the element of freedom; they are mere material external facts, as subject to numeration and measurement as a crop of wheat, or the velocity of a bullet… as soon as we seek simply statistics and averages, we have lost sight of man, and are contemplating only his works, his products.”

    It is easy, therefore, to overlook the fact that statistical laws are inferences, not causes. That is why the method of the economist can never replace that of the historian.

Science and Technology in World History

Monday, July 5, AD 2010

Technological history is a unique point of view that always caught my eye.  David Deming of the American Thinker gives us a brief synopsis of his latest contribution in this genre.  Keep in mind how integral Christianity was to the recovery of Europe after the barbarian invasions and the safekeeping of knowledge by the monastic system that allowed Europe to recover and blossom into what we now call Western Civilization:

Both Greece and Rome made significant contributions to Western Civilization.  Greek knowledge was ascendant in philosophy, physics, chemistry, medicine, and mathematics for nearly two thousand years.  The Romans did not have the Greek temperament for philosophy and science, but they had a genius for law and civil administration.  The Romans were also great engineers and builders.  They invented concrete, perfected the arch, and constructed roads and bridges that remain in use today.  But neither the Greeks nor the Romans had much appreciation for technology.  As documented in my book, Science and Technology in World History, Vol. 2, the technological society that transformed the world was conceived by Europeans during the Middle Ages.

Greeks and Romans were notorious in their disdain for technology.  Aristotle noted that to be engaged in the mechanical arts was “illiberal and irksome.”  Seneca infamously characterized invention as something fit only for “the meanest slaves.”  The Roman Emperor Vespasian rejected technological innovation for fear it would lead to unemployment.

Greek and Roman economies were built on slavery.  Strabo described the slave market at Delos as capable of handling the sale of 10,000 slaves a day.  With an abundant supply of manual labor, the Romans had little incentive to develop artificial or mechanical power sources. Technical occupations such as blacksmithing came to be associated with the lower classes.

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2 Responses to Science and Technology in World History

  • The Europeans developed the stirrup which made possible heavy cavalry of armored knights. Before that cavalry rode in on the flanks of infantry and either fired arrows or threw javelins. Then retired. With the stirrup, the knight would remain on his war horse even waffter he skewered his foe.

    In my wasted youth (I was drinking more tha I was thinking) I had to take a course in European history in the Middle Ages. One of the books assigned was on technological developments in the Age. That was Spring 1970.

  • Could this be why BHO has just made ‘reaching out to the Muslim world’ foremost mission for NASA?

    That’s a great idea, they are killing us with low tech, so we should help them acquire high-tech so they can kill us better. Liberals are so smart.

My Body My Choice, Drill Baby Drill, Hmm… Not So Much

Sunday, June 13, AD 2010

There are two political mantras which have come to symbolize big problems in our mainstream party choices- “My body, my choice!” and “Drill baby! Drill!”. The liberal and conservative camps get so excited when their political heroes shout out these short catch-phrases. For me, they represent some really huge moral deficiencies.
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30 Responses to My Body My Choice, Drill Baby Drill, Hmm… Not So Much

  • The problem is the mixed economy you were mentioned. The government nominally regulates the oil companies, not to mention forcing them to drill off-shore (much riskier than on-shore) and then they are forced to operate in deep water environments compounding the risk. Then the contribution heavy legislators try to protect the oil companies by capping their liability. If they were fully liable for damages does anyone think they would not have taken many more precautions, like the acoustic shut-off valves required in Europe?

  • Perhaps if corporations were made fully liable as well the personal riches of their Executives- then if they would say well, no we aren’t going to be able to go offshore and take the risk- come up with another plan for domestic energy or allow us to drill on public lands with the same liability, with the public getting generous royalties, and maybe since all the right parties are made accountable, and The People are given financial reward- either by each citizen getting a check or by having the money earmarked for some for very obvious public work that has popular support- something like this could work better since corps would have more ammo for making the case that they can do the drilling on dry land if given the chance, and do it much more safely than at Sea- but are also willing to hang their profits and Executive net worth out as collateral to keep everyone honest- could work as the government would still have a hand in seeing to it all such agreements were met, and that plans and sites are inspected by competent, neutral parties to make sure nothing sinister is in the works by real baddies who are at the level of James Bond villians!

  • If they were fully liable for damages does anyone think they would not have taken many more precautions, like the acoustic shut-off valves required in Europe?

    Me. They are fully liable for clean up costs. Only their civil liability is capped and even that can be lifted upon a showing of gross negligence. You think billions isn’t enough of an incentive to install shut-off valves? What we should have learned from the banking crisis and Enron and Worldcom before that is that large corporations left to their own devices, will take excessive risks. Poor corporate governance (including poor executive compensation structures) is partially to blame but there are also unavoidable agency costs.

    I never had a problem with “drill, baby, drill” but I never understood the cost until this tragedy. Sometimes the risks are just too great in relation to the potential benefits. If deep-water drilling can’t be 100% safe, it should be banned entirely and I’m very skeptical it can be made 100% safe.

  • What would be the effect on the economy of $10 a gallon gasolin/heating oil?

    As if THE OIL SPILL (an accident that big gov and big oil can’t fix, big gov inspected and didn’t shut down the rig or ensure safety violations were corrected!) is the moral equivalent of 47,000,000 murders of unborn babies that big (the one you voted for) government sanctions, protects, and funds.

    People employ moral and intellectual contortions to salve their consciences for voting for Obama and abortion.

  • BIG government refused (Jones Act a relic of Depression econ protectionism) to allow many foreign specialized ships to help mitigate the enviro damage.

    The environazis are giving Obama a free pass on this one, too. Also are Obama-worshiping imbeciles . . .

  • T. Shaw wrote:

    What would be the effect on the economy of $10 a gallon gasolin/heating oil?

    As if THE OIL SPILL (an accident that big gov and big oil can’t fix, big gov inspected and didn’t shut down the rig or ensure safety violations were corrected!) is the moral equivalent of 47,000,000 murders of unborn babies that big (the one you voted for) government sanctions, protects, and funds.

    People employ moral and intellectual contortions to salve their consciences for voting for Obama and abortion.

    I do not think this very well written article was attempting to draw a moral equivalency between the spill mismanagement and the abortion holocaust. I did not get that sense at all. The author was attempting to bring the light of faith to bear on two current problems in our society – and they are both current problems – and the deficiencies in how partisan political factions have addressed them. Christians owe it to society to offer something more than mere party spirit – which St. Paul calls a work of the flesh (Gal 5:20). We owe it to society to provide a critique based on the Word of God.

    The author’s point stands, and stands correctly: it is wicked to brutalize the living space entrusted to us by God for the profit of a very few; it is also wicked to murder children. One does not detract from the other. A Christian is not bound to rush off and vote Republican because they pay lip service to the pro-life cause (they have now fronted pro-choice presidential candidates and the chairman of the party is on the record as being pro-choice). We cannot in conscience vote for an abortionist, either.

    We must start looking for and thinking of third options.

    T. Shaw, your response kind of demonstrates the need for the underlying principle that the author is applying. I have gone to the March for Life 23 or 24 of the 33 years I’ve been alive. I’ve spent hundreds of hours praying outside of abortion clinics. And I can honestly say that some pro-lifers go ballistic about the topic. If one says abortion is a big problem, another flips out and says it is the problem, and that moreover the first person – praying at the same clinic – is “soft” on abortion because they didn’t use the same word choice or because they think terrorism is also a problem. This attitude is uncharitable and often counterproductive.

  • hey have now fronted pro-choice presidential candidates

    Rudy Giuliani went nowhere in 2008, and no pro-choice GOP candidate has really made much of a dent in the presidential primaries.

    and the chairman of the party is on the record as being pro-choice

    Michael Steele has said many stupid things in the year and a half that he has been chairman, but he has not ever said that he was pro-choice.

  • Mr. Zummo,

    You are incorrect, sir. Michael Steele said in an interview with Lisa DePaulo of GQ on 11 March 2009:

    Are you saying you think women have the right to choose abortion?
    Yeah. I mean, again, I think that’s an individual choice.

    You do?
    Yeah. Absolutely.

    Are you saying you don’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade?
    I think Roe v. Wade—as a legal matter, Roe v. Wade was a wrongly decided matter.

    Okay, but if you overturn Roe v. Wade, how do women have the choice you just said they should have?
    The states should make that choice. That’s what the choice is. The individual choice rests in the states. Let them decide.

    Do pro-choicers have a place in the Republican Party?
    Absolutely!

    (http://tiny.cc/1hg4q)

    Note the interviewer’s shock at his answer. His subsequent clarification flatly contradicts what he said in the interview. Flatly.

    Laura Bush made some choice pro-choice comments early in her husband’s tenure, including that she thought Roe v. Wade should stand. She has recently reiterated these sentiments.

    These aren’t insignificant slips. This is the chair of the RNC/GOP and the wife of a president-elect (at the time of her first instance). How strongly do you think Bush could feel about it to marry a woman who might very well abort her own child? How strongly do you think the GOP in general can feel to allow Steele to stay in his position after a tip of the cards like that?

    Moreover, these aren’t isolated. RINO is getting to be a bit trivial when it comes to abortion, given the number of votes cast in Congress in favor of abortion with (R) after their name.

  • Michael Steele answered that question as horribly as he could, I won’t deny, and he’s been cringe inducing at times as chair as the head of the RNC. But he is not pro-choice.

    Laura Bush made some choice pro-choice comments

    I didn’t realize that Laura Bush ever ran for President or was a GOP candidate.

    ow strongly do you think Bush could feel about it to marry a woman who might very well abort her own child?

    This is honestly one of the silliest comments I have ever read, and the leap of logic here hurts my brain.

    RINO is getting to be a bit trivial when it comes to abortion, given the number of votes cast in Congress in favor of abortion with (R) after their name.

    Which votes in Congress “in favor of abortion” have occurred recently where there were large numbers of Republicans voting for said measure. Specifics please.

  • If deep-water drilling can’t be 100% safe, it should be banned entirely and I’m very skeptical it can be made 100% safe.

    That’s a pretty high hurdle, and I’m not sure the cost-benefit calculus justifies it. Yes, this is a major environmental accident, and there is a need to reconsider the engineering involved in deep sea drilling, but there are vast deepwater oil reserves that will probably need to be tapped even if we make a best-case switch to alternative energy.

  • If driving/flying/the Church/schools/electricity/fire can’t be 100% safe, it should be banned entirely and I’m very skeptical it can be made 100% safe. Really?

  • Michael Steele is pro-choice. He said it. He wont’t say it any more, but he is. Wisc. Congressman Paul Ryan said on MSNBC a few days after the Michael Steel affair:

    “There are pro-choice Republicans in Congress. There are pro-choice Republicans that is I represent in Wisconsin. We are a big tent party. I’m pro-life. Michael Steele is pro-choice. And you know what? We both fit within the tent of the Republican Party.”

    Hmmm…

    I do believe that George W. Bush is pro-life. As for Laura Bush, she was the president’s other half. Would you marry a pro-choice woman, Mr. Zummo? I do not think it a trivial point at all that a “pro-life” president did.

    Republicans in Congress are voting pro-life now because they are voting anti-Obama. They were singing a different tune when Dede Scazzofava was running for Congress, weren’t they?

  • Steele’s comments during the interview may have been sincere or may have caught him off guard. Here is his clarification after the interview. Take it as you will:

    “I am pro-life, always have been, always will be.
    I tried to present why I am pro life while recognizing that my mother had a “choice” before deciding to put me up for adoption. I thank her every day for supporting life. The strength of the pro life movement lies in choosing life and sharing the wisdom of that choice with those who face difficult circumstances. They did that for my mother and I am here today because they did. In my view Roe vs. Wade was wrongly decided and should be repealed. I realize that there are good people in our party who disagree with me on this issue.
    But the Republican Party is and will continue to be the party of life. I support our platform and its call for a Human Life Amendment. It is important that we stand up for the defenseless and that we continue to work to change the hearts and minds of our fellow countrymen so that we can welcome all children and protect them under the law.”

  • Would you marry a pro-choice woman, Mr. Zummo?

    I almost did.

    Republicans in Congress are voting pro-life now because they are voting anti-Obama. They were singing a different tune when Dede Scazzofava was running for Congress, weren’t they?

    This comment makes no sense to me whatsoever. What does Dede Scazzafova’s aborted (sorry for the pun) candidacy have to do with pro-life Republicans and how they vote? There are non sequiters, and then there are comments like this.

    And again, I ask you to identify the votes in “favor of abortion” that large numbers of Congressional Republicans have made. Perhaps you’re thinking of the health care bill, in which a whopping zero Republicans voted in favor of? Specifics would help.

  • Today is Flag Day and the 235th anniversary of the United States Army.

    Pray for our gallant troops!

    Pray for Victory and Peace!

    God bless America!

  • Charlie Crist, prior to running for governor of Flordia described himself as pro-choice. Now an independent, he just vetoed an ultrasound/informed-consent law (http://tiny.cc/vw6yr).

    Arlen Specter sat as Republican senator for Pennsylvania for twenty seven years with an increasing approval rating from NARAL (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arlen_Specter). He has switched political affiliation, but not his voting pattern.

    Reps. Lance and Frelinghuysen of NJ are both Republicans who consistently vote pro-choice.

    Tom Ridge, former governor of PA, was on the record at the time as being pro-choice.

    Rob Ehrlich, former governor of my own fair state of Maryland, a Republican, voted consistently pro-choice except in the most extreme cases. He is joined by Wayne Gilchrest (R, MD-1) in this basic stance. Connie Morella, a Catholic and Republican, served Maryland for 16 years as a congresswoman, never failing to get NARAL’s ringing endorsement.

    George Pataki, New York’s governor for eleven years, was pro-choice the whole time, and proud of it. Susan Molinari served New York’s 13th in like fashion through most of the 1990s. Sherwood Boehlert served three different districts from 1983 to 2007-ish, pro-choice the whole time. Benjamin Gilman who served three districts from ’73 to ’03 was on NARAL’s good list – he scored 100% with them. A Republican.

    Do I really need to continue? Really?

    Paul, we’re getting pretty far afield from my point and from the author’s. I am not trying to gun down the GOP. I am not going to sell my soul to them, either, just because “the Dems are worse.”

  • “Do I really need to continue? Really?”

    You mean, since you didn’t really answer the question asked?

    “I ask you to identify the votes in “favor of abortion” that large numbers of Congressional Republicans have made.”

    I’d say yeah, you probably need to continue.

    No one denies that there are pro-choice Republicans (but, interestingly, you seen to only be able to name a couple of EX-Republicans, some FORMER Governors, and a handful of FORMER congresspersons).

  • Ryan:

    Everybody knows about these particular men. I never said that the GOP was perfect – far from it. Clearly there are numerous pro-choice Republicans; however, they are the minority. You still haven’t responded to my question about specific votes where large numbers of Republicans have voted “pro abortion.” You can’t find it because no such vote exists.

    Even the list you gave is pretty weak. Crist has been exiled in favor of a strongly pro-life candidate, Specter is gone and would have lost to Toomey had he not switched parties, Pataki is gone and is considered a joke by most Republicans, and Ridge is also no longer active in politics. And then of course we see what happened to people like Giuliani and then Scazzafava.

    Yes, there are pro-choice politicians within the GOP. You have not made your case that they represent a significant enough interest within the party to continue this holier than thou third party shtick.

  • And I write what I wrote above as someone who comes fairly close to despising the Republican Party. The GOP has its own culture-of-death issues that make membership in that party untenable.

    But, honestly, it’s not even a close contest for who bends over backward the most in service of Moloch.

  • T. Shaw – My juxtaposition of these two mantras is not meant to convey that I believe that the mass killing of the unborn over long decades is on par with the current ecological disaster brewing in the Gulf- sorry if you misread my intent there- re-read my article to re-assess if you will.

    I am someone who tries to follow the lead of the popes and the Holy See- and they do spill – no pun intended- a lot of ink on issues other than abortion- and there is no way one could miss that the Catholic Hierarchy stands strongly for the unwanted, unborn child. I am also similarly predisposed to care about every life threatened by avoidable actions leading to human and environmental damages. The Gulf Leak is a big concern- bigger still for those of us living in the region- you have to be able to walk and chew gum sometimes- it’s called multi-tasking- we do it all the time as parents- say one child is sick or all of your children are sick- you prioritize yes, but you don’t neglect any of your children and use the priority system as your cop-out excuse. We Catholics have a lot of battles to wage, but only One War- the War for souls starting with our own- I am following my conscience and continuing to properly form my conscience my doing in-dept readings of Scripture, and the Catholic official documents- like the pope’s encyclicals and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church- from these sources I am picking up the idea that there is a strong interrelationship between all of the Church’s social teaching themes- it does the cause of pro-life no good, to act like all other social concerns are lame or not to be considered at all.

    If lives and God’s creation are at risk- I bet God is concerned, and He is my guide- not partisan political pundits. Catholics should always be at the forefront of any and all good fights for the causes of justice for all and protection for the weak, vulnerable, and for the sustainability of life here on earth for our children’s children and beyond. That’s living a both/and Catholic theology out in the real world where we are tested and ultimately judged by the standards of “The Judgment of the Nations” and “the Beatitudes” along with the Ten Commandments.

  • j. christian, my position on this has change. Had the leak been plugged early, I would have no problem with deep-water drilling but this has proven far costlier than I’ve ever imagined. Costly enough to consider an outright ban.

  • Oh Please!
    “It seemed to me that in the “Sunshine State” this would be the perfect place to begin bold and broad experiments in net-metering solar energy- turning every home and business with a roof into an energy producing unit- start with one county and see how it goes. The very idea of just mindlessly supporting more drilling in the Ocean to get at more oil without exhausting other less polluting options- seemed like the type of thinking that leads to the groupthink of machismo- macho men who like drilling holes and blowing up stuff, drilling random women ( if they could), and parading their toughness in public to perhaps offset their own deeper masculine insecurities.”

    So, green weenie senstitivities drive a stake in the heart of on-shore, and shallow water drilling. So companies are (maliciously I would say) left with the most dangerous, most potentially disastrous (in terms of liability), and most dangerous (to the environemnt and other living things) option of drilling deep offshore.

    If you saw this happening in a horror movie, you would be shouting at the screen “NO! Don’t go through that door!”

    Then somehow, we seem to get to the author’s point; the people doing this drilling are testosterone-crazed mysogynists who offend the more refined among us.
    Please excuse my disgust as I call you what you deserve to be called- a petty little wimp!

    And while you are huffing and puffing, please explain how all the solar collectors and wind farms in the world obviate the need for even one reliable fossil or fissile-fueled plant. If you have fixed the ultra-high capacity electrical charge storage problem, then you ought to be too busy becoming a trillionaire to spend time on this blog.

  • RR,

    I suppose our expected value calculations are just different. Although this spill is very bad, I look at Ixtoc I and conclude that it is not a world-ending disaster. There are clear engineering lessons to be learned from this — BOP rams actuated manually or by secondary means, anyone? — and I expect the likelihood of another such accident to be remote.

    On the other hand, most of the large reserves left to be put into production are of the deepwater variety, such as the recent discoveries off Brazil. Like it or not, oil is the whole energy game right now. Unless it becomes economically viable to produce oil from kerogen shale, I don’t see where else it’s coming from. What other choice do you think we have?

  • I don’t know how much oil we get from deep-water drilling off American shores but I’m sure it’s a much less than we get from other sources so I doubt a ban would add more than a few cents at the pump. A small price to pay in my guesstimation, especially considering that we have relatively cheap gas to begin with.

  • And it’s not like the oil is going anywhere. If future technology makes it easier to get at deep sea oil or we get desperate, it will always be there.

  • I took “ban” to mean indefinite and global; what you and BA are saying sounds more like a national moratorium, which is a sensible conclusion given the current state of the technology and regulatory regime.

  • Though part of the problem seems to be that BP may not have followed standard industry practices. Time will hopefully sort out the truth:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704324304575306800201158346.html?mod=MKTW

  • The problem I have with Kevin in El Paso- besides the fact that he calls me “a petty little wimp” is that my criticism with the “Drill Baby” crowd had more to do with the blind enthusiasm for drilling off-shore- it was not typical to hear the fine-tuned critique that the deep off-shore drilling was a risky business- that is hardly the message being sold out there in the mainstream. Back before this BP disaster, the primary noise I was hearing was that any and all drilling anywhere/anytime should be going forth- that is the attitude I compare to machismo- now it is fine to go back and try to correct the record- but the mainstream candidates certainly did not do a good job of using the bully pulpit to lead the populace into more uplifting debate on the facts and choices we must deal with.

    Myself? I publicly support Green options like Nuclear energy with some very specific qualifications like standardized plant designs making it easier for authorities to keep inspections current and simplified- also I put forth the idea of having more passively-safe small plant designs such as the type I promoted when I spent a year in the Czech Republic in the year after their Velvet Revolution- I met personally with President Havel and handed him such materials and also had a formal meeting with their Industrial Minister- Havel did have positive things to say about such nuclear possibilities but I don’t think the country could afford to implement the newer technologies unfortunately. I also supported the French-mode of recycling the nuclear waste instead of having to deal with all the storage issues- but again we are not having very edifying discussions on nuclear energy, oil drilling options, or solar energy/net-metering at the national popular levels- which leaves the discussion in the hands of opportunistic political hacks playing to the liberal/conservative groupthink and the mass media dumbing down effect. Too bad.

    I’m one who is always open to constructive dialogue and sound facts and rational planning- don’t know if that puts me in the “petty little wimp” camp- but I know that blessed are the meek and blessed are the peacemakers and suffering insults well can actually assist my journey to sainthood- so thanks for your remarks:)

  • I’m sorry, but it’s just hard for me to take the article seriously. It calls Sarah Palin a “she-male,” it says off shore drilling is some form of machoism, it gives no summary of the events leading up to the spill- in which government’s culpability is severe- it somehow associates “drilling random women” with looking for and aquiring oil (and come on; who is traditionally more promiscuous, environmentalists or conservatives), and it assumes that the government can somehow breathe life into solar technology, and through an act of legislation, cause a break through in technology by willing it (pumping money into a project doesn’t count as much more).
    The autor doesn’t address any of those concerns, and is just plain intellectually dishonest in his conjured associations between promiscuity and offshore oil drilling.
    As I finish the post, I question my sanity that I commented on this article. I won’t be commenting again, so take my objections for what they are.

  • Ike- I would agree that religious conservatives would tend to be less promiscuous than liberal religionists- at least in theory given their more traditional take on moral values- but with secular conservatives I wouldn’t necessarily take that bet that they are more chaste than secular environmentalists- I’ve encountered many different sorts of political conservatives – some religious some not- it makes a big difference- many secular conservatives would seem to me to be very inclined toward machismo in many ways- sexual attitudes, attraction to violence and so forth- Rush “Elizabeth Taylor” Limbaugh and the neo-conservative Straussians, along with some of the male libertarian Randian-types also seem to be cut from the macho groupthink that would be seen lustily cheering on the sound of Buzz saws cutting down old growth forests or shouting mindlessly- Drill baby, Drill! I’m not a fan of ideologies or ideologues so I’m not interested in carrying the water for liberals/conservative, Dems of Repubs-

8 Responses to Obama Believes in the Free Market

  • That puppet can just as easily be on the other hand labeled “Wall Street”

  • Jim,

    When the UAW and SEIU have on record (White House guest log) visited Obama more than any other person or group then your comments make no sense.

  • They don’t have to visit the WH, they just phone their orders over to the Fed & Treasury and they deliver (30 min or less and guaranteed hot).

    Google “_____ Top Campaign Contributors” and put both Obama and McCain in the blank (separate searches) and you’ll see the country is not run from the White House but Wall Street.

    Making a pilgrimage to the WH may make for good back slapping photo ops with “the troops”, but the real decisions are made in the boardrooms of banks and hedge funds. Watch a PBS Frontline Program called “The Warning” and then tell me if you think “big labor” or “big money” is really steering the ship.

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/warning/

  • Jim,

    What’s the difference between corporate socialism and worker socialism?

    Answer: ZERO.

    Socialism is inherently wrong.

    From Paragraph 15 in Rerum Novarum: Hence, it is clear that the main tenet of socialism, community of goods, must be utterly rejected, since it only injures those whom it would seem meant to benefit, is directly contrary to the natural rights of mankind, and would introduce confusion and disorder into the commonweal. The first and most fundamental principle, therefore, if one would undertake to alleviate the condition of the masses, must be the inviolability of private property.

    From Paragraph 17 in Rerum Novarum: Socialists may in that intent do their utmost, but all striving against nature is in vain.

    Socialism didn’t work in the time of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, and it doesn’t work now.

    Period.

  • And furthermore, ultimately it doesn’t matter if Obama believes in the free market or not (and he doesn’). Obama is a murderer of unborn babies, a legitimatizer of filthy putrid activities between men as marriage and ultimately an inherently evil and wicked man.

    ANYONE who supports him knowing the grave evil this man is committing CANNOT be called a Christian, much less a Catholic.

    That doesn’t mean Republicans are God’s Party. What it means is that whatever the Republicans may be, the Democrats ARE the party of death and they must be defeated, muzzled and emasculated.

    I won’t mince words. BTW, St. Paul was worse on Hymenaeus and Alexander in 1st Timothy 1:19-20 than our Bishops are on that reprobate great whore of Babylon, Nancy Pelosi.

    Liberal = evil. Pure and simple.

  • Paul,

    As long as you remember that in that same encyclical, and in every other social encyclical, the Papacy has explicitly advocated a policy of encouraging widespread property distribution, of worker ownership and control of productive property. This is a cornerstone of Catholic social teaching.

    JP II’s Laborem Exercens, along with Rerum Novarum, should be required reading for every Catholic and every American. In my America it would be.

    Fortunately, some Americans are starting to wake up and see that our choices are NOT limited to the following: 1) total nationalization and command economy and 2) individualist Social Darwinism where poor people either get “charity” or nothing at all.

    They’ve been discovering a third option, the option that has ALWAYS been promoted by the Papacy: workers and families and communities come together, through their own will and in view of what they freely know and choose as the good, and take common ownership of businesses that are new or old ones that are failing and have been abandoned.

    MORE CATHOLICS need to be involved in this – otherwise the whole project will be dominated by secular liberals. It was a Catholic priest that started the Mondragon, the most successful cooperative in the world, and now the model for all successful cooperatives. That priest was in turn inspired by Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno. This is OUR political and social philosophy, and we ought to be using it and owning it.

  • you can’t have a free market without competition, and just as in every competition there are winners and there are losers. the problem with liberals is that they haven’t found a loser they didn’t want to turn into a victim. and it doesn’t matter one little bit because their ultimate goal isn’t for fairness, or freedom… it is to usher in more socialism.

    just one of the many services they offer…

  • Ultimately, freedom requires risk. It requires the acceptance of the need for occassional suffering in order to perpetuate it. The reason true freedom is floundering in America and everywhere else that attempts it is that few people are willing to accept suffering. They want the government to solve their problems and create a perfect place where there is no suffering. The government, naturally, is incapable of doing so but rather than be honest about that makes those promises in exchange for the liberties of those who do not speak up. I saw just how many were willing to trade freedom for comfort after 9/11. The Patriot Act was anything but Patriotic and was massively invasive of privacy on a scale not seen before in America, but out of fear and a desire to be comfortable people complied with hardly a word. America will continue to flounder, continue to erode, until people take responsibility for their lives and their actions and surge forward to take the risks and accept the suffering that comes with freedom.

Sweatshop Economics Must Not Continue

Thursday, February 4, AD 2010

I don’t believe any good Catholic would say they are happy with the situation of so many sweatshops operating in China et al.  The problem is what to do (or not do) about it.  I am giving my students a research project premised on a single sentence- “How can I avoid buying sweatshop products?”.  We are simultaneously studying the good Pope Benedict XVI’s “Caritas In Veritate”- specifically paragraphs #21, 22, 25, 27, 35, 36, 37, 38, 40, 41, 44, 48, 49, 51, 60, 63, 64, 65, 75, and 76. You can follow along at home!

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49 Responses to Sweatshop Economics Must Not Continue

  • No doubt the conditions in so-called sweatshops are often horrible. You won’t improve the lot of anyone in the developing world, however, buy declining to buy products produced in sweatshops, or by trying to get them shut down. Jobs with low pay and poor conditions exist because the people who work there don’t have any better options, and you generally don’t help a person by taking away his best option, however awful in an absolute sense.

    In my post yesterday, I noted that global poverty and inequality has declined significantly over recent decades. It’s not clear that that would have happened absent sweatshops, a fact that should be borne in mind.

  • Assuming free choice is involved, Blackladder is correct. In other words, there is an important difference between sweatshop labor resulting from laborers selecting the best of unattractive options versus laborers who have no other legal option because they are slaves, and slave labor does exist in some parts of the world. Historical economists who have studied the sweatshops of newly industrialized Great Britain now pretty much all agree that as bad as those environments were they actually provided the workers with a superior standard of living than their other options, which were often simple starvation. Widespread starvation has been a normal condition throughout world history until very recently. Hobbes was wrong in many things, but his description of life as nasty, brutish, and short was spot on correct for most people throughout the world well into the 20th century. Many things have contributed to economic progress, but probably the most important are free markets protected by the rule of law. I certainly agree that there can be necessary and appropriate regulation of markets, but many well-intended regulations advanced by social reformers have produced adverse unintended consequences that dwarf the social affliction they were designed to remedy.
    The botton line is that not buying goods from companies that employ workers in sweatshop conditions may help wealthier workers in developed nations and may even make one feel good, but it probably hurts those who are already the most vulnerable.

  • Your overall aim here is clearly good, and I think people are certainly right to want to see conditions in third world factories get better. Two things that might be worth keeping in mind:

    1) Often in an effort to “keep from buying from sweatshops” people simply avoid all products made in third world countries. They assume that if a shirt was made in Indonesia, it must have been made under inhuman conditions. In most cases, however, they have no way of knowing, so what they end of doing is simply punishing Indonesians in general, rather punishing bad factories and buying from good ones. (On the flip side, such movements are seldom wide-spread enough to have any real effect, so I suppose one could argue that their attempt to boycott the third world isn’t hurting anyone that much.)

    2) The video if factually incorrect that globalization has lowered wages in poor countries overall. It may be correct that wages have fallen in Mexico since NAFTA, but Mexico was manufacturing products for the US long before then. Since the early ’90s, Mexico has in turn seen low end manufacturing jobs move farther south to Nicaragua, Hunduras, Colombia, etc. and across the Pacific to China, Indonesia and Vietnam. (Further, Mexico is actually a market for goods made in Asia and elsewhere; it’s not just in the US that cheap shirts made in China are being sold, but in Mexico too.) Overall wages have increased, not decreased in globalization. The problem is just that they are often increasing from very, very low levels.

  • I can only accept the “sweatshop” concept if there was a clear line of progress leading from a peoples acceptance of harsh, low paying work into middle-class opportunities for themselves and most definitely their children. This seems to be the way it worked here in the U.S. as workers used their political and other freedoms to advance collectively- drawing upon unions and other political tools including muckraking journalism. Of course, success brings a new set of challenges/temptations, and we didn’t find the right calibration of corporate and labor powers in our own system.

    But without these type of freedoms in repressive nations, and with corporations using their power advantage to say – hey if you unionize, if you start collective bargaining power plays- we just leave you an empty factory and move to where the workers can just suck on it coutesy of the police state apparatus. If this is the current situation- and the proof of this for me is how everyone ended up in China- the land of one-child limits and no religious freedom- not so easy for muckraking journalists to just poke around either to provide a true narrative of the average Chinese life. I have many reasons to be suspicious of an American economy so warmly connected to the biggest and meanest psuedo-Communist dictatorship around. Can’t be good

  • I can only accept the “sweatshop” concept if there was a clear line of progress leading from a peoples acceptance of harsh, low paying work into middle-class opportunities for themselves and most definitely their children.

    I think this is precisely what we have been seeing over the last few decades. Here, for example, is a description of the effect of a Nike factory in Vietnam:

    Ten years ago, when Nike was established in Vietnam, the workers had to walk to the factories, often for many miles. After three years on Nike wages, they could afford bicycles. Another three years later, they could afford scooters, so they all take the scooters to work (and if you go there, beware; they haven´t really decided on which side of the road to drive). Today, the first workers can afford to buy a car.

    Since 1990, when the Vietnamese communists began to liberalise the economy, exports of coffee, rice, clothes and footwear have surged, the economy has doubled, and poverty has been halved. Nike and Coca-Cola triumphed where American bombs failed. They have made Vietnam capitalist.

    I asked the young Nike worker Tsi-Chi what her hopes were for her son´s future. A generation ago, she would have had to put him to work on the farm from an early age. But Tsi-Chi told me she wants to give him a good education, so that he can become a doctor. That´s one of the most impressive developments since Vietnam´s economy was opened up. In ten years 2.2 million children have gone from child labour to education. It would be extremely interesting to hear an antiglobalist explain to Tsi-Chi why it is important for Westerners to boycott Nike, so that she loses her job, and has to go back into farming, and has to send her son to work.

  • Without some big regulatory change- which seems to be the Magisterium’s intent behind calling repeatedly for a global economy that has a just juridical framework- I still think we can make strides by doing business through the global Catholic Church via CRS and diocesan/parish contacts operating fair trade cooperative relationships bypassing the big box network on as many individual products as possible. Just like I would prefer a Catholic non-profit health insurance option to a completely Government-only one. There is a Catholic difference to every field- from education, to medicine and pharmaceuticals (think birth control, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia), to economics/business – this Pope is very clear about warning us away from any single ideological view or overeliance on technical solutions that ignore the humanity involved at every turn of every economic transaction. Check out the Pope’s call for a new synthesis of Christian humanism applied to the development of economies that include holistic considerations that interrelate- he would also include ecological and promotion of healthy families at the core. Working in sweatshops for 12 hour shifts over 6 or 7 days certainly isn’t suitable for someone in a Catholic family- we can’t leave people with this option or nothing at all- it ain’t right folks- gotta come up with something better than apologetics for shopping Walmart- reminds me of the old argument against ending slavery- the slaves would be worse off and the economy would be destroyed- well no one says we can create a perfect world, but we are charged with creating civilizations of love- I don’t see a sweatshop standing in that kind of civilization so I’m not going to accept rationalizations- doesn’t fit into my understanding of our Catholic social doctrine

  • Working in sweatshops for 12 hour shifts over 6 or 7 days certainly isn’t suitable for someone in a Catholic family- we can’t leave people with this option or nothing at al

    I’m all for giving people better options (and if people did have better options than working at sweatshops there would be no sweatshops – you wouldn’t need a law for that). Trying to shut down sweatshops, though, isn’t giving people a better option. It’s taking an option away, and in particular it’s taking away an option that people judge to be better than the available alternatives.

    reminds me of the old argument against ending slavery- the slaves would be worse off and the economy would be destroyed

    It seems to me that the main problem with this argument was that it was false. Abolishing slavery didn’t destroy the economy and ex-slaves were better off than they were before. That’s not the case for sweatshops.

  • I would recommend a book titled “The Vocation of Business: Social Justice in the Marketplace” by John Medialle, a professor at Univ of Dallas.

    I have read it four times and I’m still unpacking it.

    http://tinyurl.com/yeljrdz

    He writes that until you have equity, you will never have equilibrium. Labor must come before capital and that is one of the main tenets of Catholic Social Teaching. The bottom line to ending sweatshops is worker ownership of the means of production, which is the main tenant of Distributism as advanced by GK Chesterton and Hellaire Belloc.

  • I’m interested in the NIke factory in Vietnam example- I wonder how it worked that the workers went from destitution to being able to afford cars- did that happen while no positive changes took place at work- like a healthy increase in wages, better working conditions and so forth which would actually take the factory out of the sweatshop category? Is this typical? Does the Vietnamese government do a better job of protecting their people who work for foreign companies than the Chinese? I had thought that the whole reason for going to these kind of countries was the fact that the government would be on the side of the companies to help keep the workers in line so they wouldn’t press for higher wages and more investment in safe working environments? I wouldn’t submit that every factory in every poor country is necessarily a sweatshop, but it would seem that the purpose of locating half a world away from a pure business profit motive is the cheap labor- and the promise that that cheap labor would remain so- otherwise why not stay in the U.S. and save on a lot headaches and travel expenses?

    The trick for me would be to follow the American way and see a shift to domestic markets in every nation so that you don’t have a system where most production in the world is geared for sale in relatively few countries- like American consumers should not be the main source of income for the third world workers to fight over for perpetuity. Has the open trade system had enough time to bring about a better system- fitting in with the CAtholic social teaching theme of the universal destination of goods/resources?

    I think that having international bodies like the WTO representing the interests of multinational corporations needs a strong element of human rights protectors- so that workers are competing with their basic rights as humans and workers respected by all participating trading partners- this would seem fair and necessary given our fallen nature and the fact that the love of money is the root of many evils- or so says the Bible.

  • I had thought that the whole reason for going to these kind of countries was the fact that the government would be on the side of the companies to help keep the workers in line so they wouldn’t press for higher wages and more investment in safe working environments?

    The point of going to developing countries is that labor is cheaper. Labor is cheaper, however, not because the government will come in and bust heads if people demand higher wages, but because the average wages in the countries are so low. Wages in multinational owned factories may be low by American standards, but they can be several times the prevailing wage for other sources of employment.

  • The modern term is “developing country,” not “third world.”

    reminds me of the old argument against ending slavery- the slaves would be worse off and the economy would be destroyed

    If the slaves would be worse off, there would’ve been no problem with giving them the choice to be free. If they thought they’d be worse off, they’d volunteer to be enslaved. I’m all for ensuring that factory workers overseas have choices. Closing sweatshops restrict the freedom to choice though.

    American consumers should not be the main source of income for the third world workers to fight over for perpetuity.

    Why not? If Latin American farmers were limited to domestic markets and not of the millions of Starbucks customers in the US, those farmers would not be able to afford to send their kids to school.

  • I had thought that the whole reason for going to these kind of countries was the fact that the government would be on the side of the companies to help keep the workers in line so they wouldn’t press for higher wages and more investment in safe working environments? I wouldn’t submit that every factory in every poor country is necessarily a sweatshop, but it would seem that the purpose of locating half a world away from a pure business profit motive is the cheap labor- and the promise that that cheap labor would remain so- otherwise why not stay in the U.S. and save on a lot headaches and travel expenses?

    I work fairly directly with the operations group which deals with our Chinese manufacturers are work, so I can explain some of the details here. (This is dealing with consumer electronics, so we’re talking pretty advanced factories, not sweatshops, but the logistics are similar.)

    One thing many people don’t realize is how incredibly cheap it is to ship things to the US from China, so long as you have the six weeks to send it across in bulk via cargo ship. For instance, when we bring in a container load (about 2,500) of laptop computers by sea, all packed up in their retail packaging ready to go onto a store shelf, the shipping cost from Shanghai to the distribution center in the US is about $5/laptop.

    With shipping so cheap, even a very small difference in the cost of manufacturing becomes worth while — especially because the profits made by each company along the supply chain are often very small.

    Most of the factories that make product for US companies in China are not actually owned by the US company — they’re owned by a local company which makes products to order, which the US company then buys. The US companies do this because it saves them start-up costs, and the difficulties of dealing with local government. (In many developing nations, local government basically runs of bribes and shakedown schemes — such as claiming the deed to your factory is forged and threatening to confiscate if you don’t buy a new one — and US companies typically don’t want to deal with it for legal reasons.)

    These locally owned factories will compete for business with each other, and manufacture for multiple US brands. So the HP, Sony, Dell and Toshiba laptops you see in Best Buy may actually have been made in the same factory. The different factories also compete with each other for labor. Building a high quality factory takes a lot of capital, but turning the capital into a good return requires a high output with few mistakes. More experienced workers tend to make product faster and with fewer mistakes — so if a new factory wants to get up to speed quickly their best approach is to poach workers from another factory with an offer of higher wages. All of the factories end up hiring and training new workers as well, but it helps to have a certain critical mass of experienced workers to provide on-the-line training and such. So wages do tend to rise over time through competition between the manufacturers.

    Expansion out into new areas can provide a way to keep wages from rising too high, but this again runs into the problem of inexperienced workers being less productive. And once you have a lot of experienced workers, it becomes tempting for a competitor to build a factory and poach some of that expertise. If you’re the first factory into a new are, you get lower wages for a while, but then others move in and they creep up.

    The more established areas move into more high value types of factories — and there’s also a value to being near to rail lines and ports, so businesses can’t chase endlessly into the wilderness in search of lower labor costs, because they start to incur other costs that make up for it.

    Why do businesses bother sourcing in the developing world when wages are rising? Well, businesses are very willing to be temporary — and there’s not necessarily a huge investment for them when most of the factories are locally owned. Also, as those developing markets see their wages rise, they become customers as well as sources of labor. For instance: most cell phones are currently manufactured in China. But it’s not just a source of cheap labor. There are more than twice as many cell phone users in China as in the US.

  • The modern term is “developing country,” not “third world.”

    Exactly right. That term is quite Modern. It should be done away with.

  • While I can appreciate the intent of this post, Blackadder and others have done a great job explaining how among a continuum of choices sweatshops may not represent the least desirable choice given the circumstances.

    I would like to add that from our perspective, as Americans living in 2010 with possibly the most posh existence the world has ever known, this appears downright inhumane and barbaric. And on many levels it is. But poverty and prosperity are relative, in large measure.

    The sad reality is, from a perspective of solidarity, the most Catholic thing you can do is to continue to patronize goods from such third-world nations and simultaneously pray for the transformation of the culture from within.

    For further reading on wealth and poverty:

    http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?a=726

  • I laud the effort to ensure that workers, all over the world, are allowed to work in safe, clean, and humane conditions. IT will certainly not increase the cost of my XXL/X-Tall sweatshirt to reduce a shift in a factory to 8 hours, or to make the minimum work age 18 instead of 13.

    But we risk much, I think, when applying US standards of living as a measure of the humanity/inhumanity of a particular living/working condition, and the justice of any particular wage.

    Start in the US. I can live very well in Jonesboro, AR on a salary of $45,000/year; I can at least rent a house, pay my bills, and basically take care of my needs and the needs of a young family. Take that same $45,000 to New York City, and I am at or below subsistence level; I cannot drive, I cannot buy a lot, and I am much poorer than when I left home in AR.

    Same applies in Memphis, TN vs. Jonesboro; rents are lower in Jonesboro, and I can live better there than I can in Memphis.

    Now stretch it across the Pacific. In many countries, $45,000 would make me a rich man, or at least move me well into the upper middle class. This is why, I would think, remittances are so helpful to families in developing countries; the available capital moves the family into a different economic stratum.

    SO, while the work of organizations such as these is important in correcting the abuses that inevitably occur when people are involved (cuz we’re a greedy bunch when left to ourselves, sometimes), it doesn’t make sense to decry every instance of people being paid $0.47/hr as an egregious offense against humanity. How does making that $0.47/hr materially affect the living standard of that family? If that $0.47/hr were not available to that worker in Swaziland, what would their alternative be, and how would their standard of living change?

    It also doesn’t pass the smell test that standards of living would be forced *downward* by the arrival of a manufacturer supplying, say, Wal-Mart. Were people conscripted by force into the factory, and removed from better-paying positions in much nicer factories in order to slave for the Waltons? Doubtful. SO what’s the real story?

    As well-intentioned as I think folks like this start, I wonder if their agenda isn’t much more driven by a hatred of anything “corporate”. The factories they depict shuttered and empty didn’t get that way because an evil corporation decided to screw over a town and its citizens; they got that way because the manufacturer was forced, by competition, to decide between competition and extinction. Some of those companies *died*; they didn’t move to China. Once they died, though, Chinese manufacturers were able to make the case that they could offer similar quality for much less. Once China’s standard of living (and wages) started to rise, manufacturers looked for even lower-cost areas to move into; thus, Swaziland, Haiti and Bangladesh start to benefit from the rise in the standard of living in China (which, I would bet, imports a lot more Bangladeshi clothing than we do).

    I agree with P.Diddy’s closing comment, with one caveat: We *should* continue to purchase goods from developing countries, but in addition to *praying* for the transformation of the culture from within, we have to be willing to *work* for that same transformation, by holding businesses accountable for knowing the conditions under which their inventories are produced.

  • Thinking about this, I’d make two additional points:

    1) One of the major differences here, I think, is between different views of history. In a more progressive view of history, the primary reason that we no longer see the worst conditions of the Industrial Revolution in the US is the work of unions and the work of journalists exposing repressive corporate practices to public outrage. Now, I think those were in fact very minor factors, and that the primary reason we no longer see those conditions and those levels of pay is because companies simply can’t get workers to work that way any more as a result of economic development and competition for labor. These different views will lead to different conclusions as to what we should do now.

    2) The solution from a more economistic point of view is not necessarily just “do nothing”. US Companies choose which contract firms in developing countries to work with based on a number of factors, and if they do refuse to deal with firms which behave in inhuman ways (forcing female workers to take birth control; unsafe working conditions; etc.) they will drive local firms to improve conditions overall. There will probably continue to be much worse firms doing work for the local market, but if US firms use their purchasing power to drive incremental improvements (not the kind of “have US working conditions and pay or give the jobs back to US union workers” that domestic interests have in mind, but insisting on working with the better factories in the region) that will help drive conditions upwards faster. It will also tend to benefit not just the workers, but the products and the companies that make them in the long term.

  • The modern term is “developing country,” not “third world.”

    Exactly right. That term is quite Modern. It should be done away with.

    While we’re at it, let’s revive “negro,” “oriental,” and “groovy.”

  • You have forgotten “white trash” and “Honky” as long as you want to visit the old labels/terms.

    Dynamite article! Makes a person think about the choices that we make each day and the affect it has on the rest of the world and our local economy.

    I never shop at Walmart and haven’t for years. I would rather purchase meat from our local meat market and drugs from our small town Drug Store, etc. and Fresh produce from the farmer’s market or visit the growers themselves.

    “The Jungle” was largely responsible for changes in the meat industry. However, recently the changes in that industry are for the negative with most labor from Mexico or Latn America– and conditions (and pay) regressing –as well as safety for workers and eaters of said meat.

  • While we’re at it, let’s revive “negro,” “oriental,” and “groovy.”

    Far out.

  • I agree that having a global minimum wage would be a tough sell given all the factors that go into determining local living standards- but having all corporations participating in global trade being charged with legal responsibilities for basic human rights and decency which allow traditional families to take root and potentially flourish – for economic security is only one factor in determining that. That should be the goal- just like the video showed with dog and cat fur items being banned, so too, could member nations in trade pacts make certain contractual obligations legally binding without going overboard with insensible regulations and running into the reverse problem of giving too much power over to union bosses for example.

    The fact remains that Pope Benedict is directly calling for a “new humanistic synthesis” in the wake of the current global economic crisis. “The current crisis obliges us to re-plan our journey, to set ourselves new rules and to discover new forms of commitment, to build on positive experiences and to reject negative ones. The crisis thus becomes an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future.” #21 Caritas..

    This is what I am trying to do- scrap what hasn’t worked and try to retain some of the positives, but recognizing that there isn’t a pure ideological solution out there- which is why I’m attracted to more solidarity/subsidiarity economic relationships spring up between Catholics who happen to live in the developed/developing sectors of the global society. There is also an ecological concern which the Pope brings up that must be brought into the discussion at some point as well- I was thinking of that when it was brought up at how cheap it is to ship goods around the world- and I have read that the cargo ships use pretty poor quality fuel and are big polluters of the oceans- one doesn’t have to embrace the all-encompassing theory of man-created Climate Change to be aware of our stewardship duties in the “Care for God’s Creation” and how that affects humanity as well.

  • Re third world: Well, admittedly third world is an imperfect descriptor in that it really refers to unaligned nations during the Cold War. Back in the day economists used to refer to undeveloped countries or UDCs, but PC precursers soon claimed that the term was too harsh and demanded that it term be abandoned in favor of lesser developed countries (or LCDs), which proved to be understood as demeaning, which is why we now have developing countries — a term that makes no sense at all since all countries are developing in different ways and at different paces. But these days “feelings” trumps truth all the time. It is kind of funny in a pathetic sort of way.

  • “Wal-Mart has such a strong command over the retail market that it alone affects the wages of many workers and the fate of many factories around the world. In a recent series the LA Times described how Wal-Mart’s demands dictate lower wages, harder work, and longer hours, while eliminating jobs in factories from Honduras to China. No longer is this humongous corporation putting only America’s factories out of business, it has now turned to pitting factories in countries around the world against each other in an impossible race to the bottom.

    Wal-Mart was removed from KLD & Co.’s Domini 400 Social Index because of what it called ‘sweatshop conditions’ at its overseas vendors’ factories. KLD, which provides social research for institutional investors, said Wal-Mart hasn’t done enough to ensure that its vendors meet ‘adequate labor and human rights standards,’ according to a statement distributed by PR Newswire. KLD also cited charges that the company hasn’t been forthright about its involvement with a Chinese handbag manufacturer alleged to have subjected workers to 90-hour weeks, exceptionally low wages, and prison-like conditions. The Domini 400 is a benchmark index for measuring the effect of social screening on financial performance. (1/03)

    Some of the abuses in foreign factories that produce goods for Wal-Mart include:

    * Forced overtime

    * Locked bathrooms

    * Starvation wages

    * Pregnancy tests

    * Denial of access to health care

    * Workers fired and blacklisted if they try to defend their rights

    The National Labor Committee reported in September 1999 that the Kathie Lee clothing label (made for Wal-Mart by Caribbean Apparel, Santa Ana, El Salvador) conducted sweatshop conditions of forced overtime. Workers hours were Monday to Friday from 6:50 a.m. to 6:10 p.m., and Saturday from 6:50 a.m. to 5:40 p.m. There are occasional shifts to 9:40 p.m. It is common for the cutting and packing departments to work 20-hour shifts from 6:50 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. Anyone unable or refusing to work the overtime hours will be suspended and fined, and upon repeat “offenses” they will be fired. This factory is in an American Free Trade Zone. (http://www.nlcnet.org/KATHLEE/elsalvinfo.html)”

    From Voice of American Workers trade article.

  • The modern term is “developing country,” not “third world.”

    Exactly right. That term is quite Modern. It should be done away with.

    While we’re at it, let’s revive “negro,” “oriental,” and “groovy.”

    The term “third world” has been used over the years by peoples from these countries, sometimes prefaced by the word “so-called.” Other terms used today among global social movements are “Two-Thirds World” and “Global South.”

    But the term “developing world” was rejected long, long ago.

  • Other terms used today among global social movements are “Two-Thirds World” and “Global South.”

    But the term “developing world” was rejected long, long ago.

    Rejected by whom, exactly?

    There is a certain silliness to trying to use a single term to cover countries as distant from each other and diverse as India, Honduras, Vietnam and Kenya. I’ve heard some writers differentiate between the “developing world” and the countries in the “bottom billion” where development seems to have “stuck”.

    But I’m not clear that there’s some sort of clearing house of “approved terminology for people who care” in charge of sorting out whether “developing world” is an acceptable term or not.

  • Well, admittedly third world is an imperfect descriptor in that it really refers to unaligned nations during the Cold War. Back in the day economists used to refer to undeveloped countries or UDCs, but PC precursers soon claimed that the term was too harsh and demanded that it term be abandoned in favor of lesser developed countries (or LCDs), which proved to be understood as demeaning, which is why we now have developing countries — a term that makes no sense at all since all countries are developing in different ways and at different paces. But these days “feelings” trumps truth all the time.

    Hard to call China “undeveloped.” “Lesser developed” sounds awkward. Pre-Tsvangirai Zimbabwe wasn’t “developing.” At any rate, I’ll use whatever the most commonly accepted term at the moment happens to be. I use “pro-life” and “pro-choice” instead of “anti-abortion” and “pro-abortion.” I use “illegal immigrants” instead of “undocumented immigrants.” “African-American” or “black” instead of “negro.” And “developing” instead of “third world.”

    I’ve noticed that “OECD” and “non-OECD” is getting popular. They don’t roll off the tongue well but they are more precise terms so that’s good.

  • Rejected by whom, exactly?

    By global social justice movements, as I said.

    “Developing world,” “bottom billion,” etc. are terms that assume the values and commitments of capitalist modernity. Continue to use them if those are your values and commitments.

  • There is a certain silliness to trying to use a single term to cover countries as distant from each other and diverse as India, Honduras, Vietnam and Kenya.

    Use of terms like “Global South” and “Two-Thirds World” are precisely NOT meant to “cover” the diversities of these countries, but as an expression of solidarity of the oppressed peoples of these countries. The terms do not unite the countries, but unite particular classes among the countries.

  • From THE CATHOLIC NEWS;

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Conversion to Christ gives people the strength to break the bonds of selfishness and work for justice in the world, Pope Benedict XVI said in his message for Lent 2010.

    “The Christian is moved to contribute to creating just societies where all receive what is necessary to live according to the dignity proper to the human person and where justice is enlivened by love,” the pope said in the message released Feb. 4 at the Vatican.”

  • I believe the discussion of terminology is a rabbit trail. I’m just sayin’.

    To return, I hope, to the main point of the article and prior discussion, though, it seems to me that there exists a basic divide in ways of looking at corporations vs. small businesses. And not-coincidentally, there seems to exist a certain almost snobbery about not doing business with the Wal-marts of the world. Having, as I do, four children (and now regretting that I don’t have more, as I stand on the threshold of my 50’s) gives me a slightly different perspective on the place of Wal-Mart in my local economy.

    I would *love* to be able to buy meat at my local butcher shop, and to patronize local farmers all the time. I would love to be able to buy only clothes manufactured in the United States. Unfortunately, I cannot raise a family of six and do that; it costs too much! And since my diet is varied, and I like lettuce in January, I have to buy it from somewhere warm enough to *produce* lettuce in January. And since I don’t want a slaughterhouse in my neighborhood, I have to have meat trucked in from Arkansas and Mississippi, where the animal farms are. As much as I would like to be able to feed and clothe my family from the local economy, I cannot!

    Simplistically, I blame the union movement for these developments; the reason I can’t buy a pair of shoes made in the US is that I cannot afford to pay the added costs loaded onto the shoes by the provision of generous union benefits, and shortened shifts. I have had to wait an extra month for a suit I ordered (at 6’9″, I have to have them made (in the US)), because the factory was negotiating a contract dispute with their **union**.

    See, long ago, unions stopped being about making working conditions humane and pay dignified, and started to be about how much they could negotiate being paid for how little work. Unions, IMHO, have become the proletariat mirror of the “evil corporations”, in that they jockey to see how *little* work can be done for the dollars spent. And so the manufacturers of my clothes and other goods move overseas in order to escape the burden, and millions of jobs disappear.

    So as nice as it would be to localize everything, it isn’t practical. And as nice as it would be to impose US wages and working conditions on every country around the world, it wouldn’t be fair to guys like me, who are trying to feed and clothe the next generation, to impose those costs in a feel-good attempt at one man’s view of “social justice”. We should, as Catholics, be about *improving everyone’s lot*, not about making everyone equally miserable. And we should be about raising everyone’s standard of living by providing opportunities for people, not by redistributing wealth and just handing it over to folks. We create far more problems in that way than we solve (see the welfare system in the US from the mid-sixties till the mid nineties for an example; nothing did more to destroy the Black community than that!)

    We *can* help our brtothers and sisters in need! But it would be wrong to take from others by force of law in order to do it!

  • The complete story is found at the link below:

    http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1000486.htm

  • There are many Catholics who have not intellectually reconciled themselves with the fact that we live in a fallen world. This manifests itself in a worldview which effectively seeks to make everyone equally miserable, ala, socialism.

    Among a number of excellent points Chip discusses is the fact that the Wal-marts of the world actually do more to help the poor of the world than the snobs who won’t shop there.

  • Chip,

    In this small town of 4000, our merchants do very well at competing with Walmart. We intentionally support them and the quality and care they provide. I do not think that makes us snobs, do you really?

    We are lucky to still have small town meat markets in the upper Midwest. The owner is more selective and responsible for the meats he chooses. Ground meats especially!

    It is far superior to the products processed through the meat-packing facilities. Also, the workers do not join unions as much in the meat-packing facilities for obvious reason. (Being many illegals, etc.) The wages are half of the wage paid for the same job in 1970. The conditions much worse. Speed-ups and injuries with knives, etc., See the Postville, Iowa story recently in the news. (And that was a Kosher plant.)

    The book, THE JUNGLE, helped change working conditions for the (largely immigrants) meat-packing workers NOT because Americans gave a whit about the conditions of the workers but because Americans did not want to eat sausage that might have a worker or rat ground up in it. (As brought out by the book.)

    I basically feel the same is true with products today; dog food kills my beloved Fluffy and I don’t want those Chinese products….most people don’t care about those workers but let Fluffy get sick and I care. That is my sense of Americans and myself included. I am trying to change. It isn’t easy!!!

    I do not live in California and need to purchase veggies too, but go to other grocery stores. (Just not Walmart.)

  • Snobbery might be a bit harsh, but it is a choice you consciously exercise. And you and others in town obviously hav ethe means to exercise that choice; if you did not, all the good intentions in the world would not keep you out of Wal-mart if you had to feed your family.

    It’s akin to neighborhood choice, I suppose. If I can afford a $450,000 house in Collierville, TN, why would I choose to move to my neighborhood in Bartlett, with average home prices in the low $200’s? And if I can afford to live *there*, why would I move to Raleigh, where the same house costs only $130,000? I make any of these choices because I have the means to make them. If I could afford to drive an Escalade instead of this 10-year-old Expedition, you bet I would be driving one; can’t right now, though, since I have tuition to pay and groceries to buy for all these little girls who still live at my house.

    If your townsfolk did not have the means to buy higher-quality, higher-priced meat from your local butcher, he would have two choices: Either lower his quality, thereby enabling a lower price, or to accept less profit on the items he sells. If the margin is low enough, he then goes out of business. If it works well for y’all, great!

    But who shops at Wal-mart in your town? I would guess it’s NOT the insensitive rich folks who just don’t care about the social justice implications of enabling a behemoth bad corporate actor like Walmart; I am betting it’s the folks who can’t afford to shop at your local butcher shop and other small retailers, but who would like a consistent quality of meats, vegetable, and other staples of life. We could kill off Walmart tomorrow; where would that leave the thousands employed by Wal-mart, and where would it leave the poorer folks to shop? I don’t know, but I bet they wouldn’t be buying the same quality meats you’re able to procure from your guy. (BTW, how much does a pound of ground chuck cost from your guy?)

    So…I apologize for the snobbery accusation. But it still sounds a bit “Let-them-eat-cake”-ish…

  • Chip,
    The small retailers, meat market, lumber yard, etc…were here long before Walmart. We hope to keep them in business. The prices are competetive. The people are friendly. No snobbery here as no one here is rich. Our Van is 1998 and just had a new engine in it. We do have some nice bike trails and not much traffic so that is an alternative in good weather. (Not now…we live 2 states north of you in Jonesboro.)
    The rich folks live in new sub-divisions far away from
    this old town along the Mississippi. And it costs to drive across the river to Walmart–30 minutes away. They surely do not miss our patronage as the parking lot is always full.

    We have worked for Walmart- in our family -in the past and used the 10% discount the employees are given.

    Is it snobbery to want to keep an old small town way of life and support our business’? We all struggle to find the best way to survive, small town America too.

  • “Labor is cheaper, however, not because the government will come in and bust heads if people demand higher wages”

    Well, sometimes that does happen. It’s not the least of the reasons why places like China are popular to do business.

  • And todays price for quality ground beef is 2.69. I am sure box stores have 80% ground much cheaper. Some of us need low-fat…me in particular. Not enough bike riding lately. Have a good day!

  • Well, sometimes that does happen. It’s not the least of the reasons why places like China are popular to do business.

    I have heard nasty stories about such things. I’m not sure it done by or the behest of the government though. Sounds to me like that at some foreign companies there is a general lack of regard for the workers’ dignity that is aggravated by the fact that they are managed by petty tyrants.

    That said, I’m not so sure that sort of a work environment is something Western corporations are looking for or appreciating. The draw to China for example is, as stated above, being able to reduce labor costs to stay competitive PLUS by providing jobs there that will produce expendable income for the workers, there will be a huge market of new consumers that can afford to buy the products they are making. Maybe that thinking it reeks of “anything for a buck”, but the reality is the existence of a great many lives are benefited or at least have the opportunity to be benefited.

  • If the quality is up to par, I’d rather buy from poorer foreigners than relatively richer locals. I think Catholic Social Teaching demands it.

  • We “poorer folks” shop at our local $ollar Store-8 blocks away. I did not know The Waltons needed our money so badly. I guess we should take pity on them? Who doesn’t sell imported products these days? And jobs are supported at by shopping at other stores too.

    Seriously, how do you resolve the conflict of a government like China (still Communist last I checked) that has a one-child policy and supports abortion? Did they change that?

    I understand that people need jobs everywhere and buying from China supports people there and supports an emerging middle class. That would be true in other developing countries that are not so repressive wouldn’t it?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-child_policy

  • I guess I would ask, first, Duke…how will NOT buying from companies that manufacture in China help to change China’s one-child policy? What will change oppressive regimes like that faster than anything is giving more people in those countries the economic means to decide that the government should not be making those kinds of decisions for them!

    The people working in factories in China making…well, some of everything are not the Chinese government. And they don’t *make* policy, they *live under* it. China’s changes over the last 30 years have come, not because people decried the status quo from outside China, but because exposure to Western democracy and economic prosperity stirred a desire in the hearts of Chinese folks to have something *different*.

    And to address your earlier question, Duke, of *course* it’s OK to preserve your town;s way of life, and to support the merchants who enable it. I wouldn’t drive 30 minutes through the country to Wal-mart either, if I had the option of using the gas money instead to pay just a little more, and shopping 5 minutes away. Again, though, your town’s economy allows for that (and is actually a strong counter-argument to the “evil Wal-mart kills small businesses” mantra). $2.69 ain’t bad for a pound of chuck; I think we are paying just a little less than that, but then, Memphis is the transportation hub of the known universe or something.

    And again, apologies for the “snobbery” comment; that was too strong. Parochialism might describe it better; it’s just that the conditions under which you live (rare, by percentage of population, I bet) are not the conditions under which most people live. And if I wanted to patronize meat boutiques in Memphis similar to your small-town merchants, I would get hammered. Those types of stores here cater to the hormone-free, organic, grass-fed crowd who feel they must buy products like that, and who make the economic decision to do so. I can’t afford to eat like that, unfortunately, at least, not until the 9-year-old is out of college…

  • Have any of you read the book “A Year Without Made in China” by Sara Bongiorni? I have been meaning to because the premise sounds interesting. Bongiorni, her husband and their two young kids attempted to go an entire year without buying ANYTHING made in China… and it proved to be a lot more difficult than they thought. From what I gather, they were pretty solidly middle-class financially, definitely not poor, yet even they found it next to impossible to avoid ‘made in China.’ For lower income people, I imagine it is impossible.

    Again, it’s another reflection of the fact that we live in a fallen world, and though we do the best we can to promote good and avoid evil, we will never achieve absolute, total non-cooperation with evil in this life.

  • Boycott American products! The US slaughters innocent Iraqis and Afghans, aids Israel in the slaughter of Palestinians, tortures and kills prisoners, isn’t democratic (see 2000 presidential election), pollutes like it owns the world, doesn’t provide its people with basic health care, and gives handouts to its wealthy bankers while its ethnic minorities are placed in slums where they don’t even receive a proper education. And remember, when you buy American, you’re paying for some American women’s abortion or a float at one of America’s many gay pride parades.

  • Chip,
    I understand the conditions in China. It makes me feel very conflicted, frankly.

    I’ll have to tell my family I’m going down to the meat “boutique” ..classier than what we call it. Meat markets -as we call them here- cater to deer hunters and farmers. No one cares about the organic, hormone free etc stuff around here too much. Organic chickens here are called free range and only means raised the way grandma used to. (Free to peck and scratch the way God intended.)

    Who knows what it will be like in another decade? Maybe the $ollar Store will again be a 5 & 10 cent Store like in the 1960’s. Cheaper products and competition going the way it is.

    Elaine,
    It would be a challenge to buy products from everywhere but China. I would rather WATCH someone else do that on a Reality Show and learn from them. Sounds like an interesting book to read. Maybe the library will have it. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • I think your students (and anyone else interested in the sweatshop issue) might enjoy checking out http://www.teamsweat.org. Team Sweat is an international coalition that I founded to fight against Nike’s sweatshop abuses.

    I am a Catholic activist and former professional athlete and I have been fighting for 12 years on the front lines in solidarity (a key theme in Catholic Social Teaching) with the factory workers that produce for Nike.

    How did I get involved in this work? It all started as a research paper for a grad class I was taking while pursuing my masters degree in theology. The paper was titled:

    “Nike and Catholic Social Teaching: A Challenge to the Christian Mission at St. John’s University.”

    If you’re interested in reading it, drop me a line at [email protected].

    Peace, Jim Keady

  • Wow. The famous Jim Keady chimes in, albeit with a sales pitch.

  • I just checked out Jim Keady’s stuff- he’s the real deal folks- he has walked the walk, made real-life sacrifices, put in the time and mileage to find out the truth- and he’s Catholic- I’m going to pick this guy’s brain and heart to find out more- to take more responsibility for this issue of sweatshop labor- I want to take this thing far and beyond the normative ideological pissing contest- that means finding sources that have ground level information that is trustworthy. People who give up lucrative careers because something smells rotten in Greece- these type of guys grab my attention. I would recommend that the defenders of sweatshop economics take a look at Jim Keady’s stuff as well because this debate ain’t goin’ away just yet!

  • Blackladder claimed that “global poverty and inequality has declined significantly over recent decades,” a misleading statement based on using GDP to measure standard of living.

    More money flowing into an economy does not always translate to better living— in many “developping” countries, there are growing gaps between the rich and poor, and an unhealthy dependency on bigger economies (and corporations) for jobs and products (such as the US.) Self-sustainability, more options and consumer choice ease away poverty— not more money. The increase in money is often artificial, as any sweatshop laborer in LA will tell you (most of the money goes on increasing rent and product-prices, which remain high in developping areas due to lack of competition.)

    In short, boycotting sweatshops directly might not work, but reducing our reliance on them does. Otherwise, we are feeding into a global dependency.

Do you trust people who profit from you?

Tuesday, September 15, AD 2009

We’re often told that we shouldn’t trust people whose only interest is to make a profit from us. I ran into a brief piece by economist Russ Roberts which stands that conventional wisdom on its head in an interesting way.

The other day I had to get some important tax receipts to my accountant. He’s in St. Louis, it was getting close to April 15, and it was very important that the papers didn’t get lost. To give my accountant plenty of time, I wanted the papers to arrive the next morning.

So what did I do? My first choice was to get on a plane and deliver the letter myself. Too expensive. Too much time.

So I did the next best thing. I went down to the airport and found someone headed to St. Louis. I told her how important it was for my accountant to have my receipts by the next day. Fortunately, she seemed really nice. She said she’d be happy to help me out. I sealed up the envelope, and she promised not to open it after I left.

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7 Responses to Do you trust people who profit from you?

  • Can you say Fedex??

  • You could say this about all the Catholic apologists who make a profit from being Catholic.

  • That might be the dumbest thing I’ve read. He could have hired a taxi to private courier the thing for $500, but I bet he still would have felt more secure with FedEx for the simple reason that legal recourse against FedEx, a multinational corporation, is easier than legal recourse against an individual.

  • The legal recourse against FedEx?

  • MZ,

    Yes, the opening, which I quoted, is a bit cute, perhaps. But I think his overall point (you read the rest of the post via the link?) that whereas we would never think of going up to a stranger in an airport and asking her to carry valuable documents to another city and get them there the next morning, it works very well to go up to a stranger in a FedEx uniform and offer that person to achieve a very complex task for a small amount of money, is a sound one.

  • Remuneration is only possible in an environment of trust and accountability; otherwise you are a sucker for trusting someone you don’t otherwise know and you’d have no recourse. That doesn’t mean it won’t work out — but there is a significant chance it won’t and there is no legal recourse if it doesn’t. the profit-motive is simply a barometer for what we value. The Church has no fiscal profit motive, yet we tithe becuase without revenue we would not have a Church. Money is important and it is a very useful media for facilitating the trade of free individuals. It is the LOVE of money that is the problem. You know who doesn’t like money — Socialists. And that twisted ideology is evil, anti-Christian and diabolical.

    Moreover, I would NEVER accpet a package from someone I did not know, especially to take on an airplane. Can you imagine some terrorist duping you into carrying a bomb on board!!!!

    We may live in the remnants of a Christian civilization but we are a fallen race. This was a dumb move.

  • DarwinCatholic: What? And I thought only communists (pace JH) despise those who consort with the demons of Western Capitalism!

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

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

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

    I would argue that advertising often does exacerbate this situation.

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

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

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

  • Interesting topic—great post. Thank you!

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

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

The Culture of Death and Consumerism

Monday, May 18, AD 2009

Contributor Joe Hargrave posted a link to an interesting new essay of his today on the topic of the Culture of Death and its connections to consumerism. It’s an interesting essay, and I encourage people to read it. I do not pretend to similar length or erudition in this piece, but in formulating some thought about Joe’s essay I realized that it would be very long for a comment, so I’m writing it up as a post here instead.

There are a lot of things I found interesting and wanted to discuss (or dispute) in your essay — perhaps in part because I get the impression that our areas of historical knowledge are somewhat non-overlapping (I know most about 3000 BC to 400 AD, you seem to be most expert on the last two centuries), and the person who imagines himself an expert in anything invariably has all sorts of quibbles with what the “outsider” writes. However, I’m going to try to stick to what I think is my most central critique.

Joe finds at the root of the culture of death the materialistic and individualistic phenomenon of modern consumerism, and about consumerism he says the following, beginning with a quote from Pope John Paul II:

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7 Responses to The Culture of Death and Consumerism

  • Darwin,

    Thanks for taking an interest in my article. I appreciate the time you took to respond to it. Here I will address some statements regarding my positions.

    You write,

    Joe seems to see the evil of consumerism as being that of reducing the human person to its exchangeable value.

    It would be more correct to say that I see that as one of the evils. The very passage you quoted before making this observation shows what I think is perhaps more crucial; consumerism consistently appeals to our ‘lower nature’, to what is base and selfish within us, whether in the form of commercials, entertainment, eating, public events, etc. Our lower natures are easy to ensnare and enslave to addiction, ensuring repeat business. Our higher natures take years of patient guidance to cultivate properly.

    After describing some rather mundane pettiness in modern society, you go on to to say,

    Yet this is not, I think, merely a product of a cash economy or a capitalist society. Rather, it is a sinful tendency which is much deeper in our fallen natures.

    My response is that I would not try to isolate one cause, but to show which cause exerts the most influence at a given time. Our sinful, fallen nature is a constant throughout history. On this you and I will agree. The question is, how will it express itself? Humans have always had selfish tendencies, but in previous forms of society, and in non-Western forms of society, these tendencies have consequences that people want to avoid. Part of the problem of consumerism is that it not only removes consequences for selfishness, but encourages it. That makes a pretty big difference, I’d say.

    The next point I would address is this:

    For instance, modern capitalist society is much less violent, on a daily basis, than many previous societies. Not that wrath itself is necessarily less, but that wrath is less often expressed in physical violence.

    I suppose, in times of relative peace, this is generally true within such societies – though I don’t recall any previous society where school children took a sword to school one day and started slaughtering classmates in a fit of existential angst.

    That said, modern capitalist society is most certainly sustained through violence – in other parts of the world. We’ve been down this road before; cheap third world labor is brutally exploited to make modern capitalist society a reality. Workers are denied their rights to organize, to political protest, to form unions and parties that will advance their interests. Repression means cheap labor which the West has not only taken advantage of but sought to preserve through policy.

    The sanitized world many of us inhabit is an illusion propped up by blood and dirt and violence of every sort. So I do reject this notion of a more peaceful society.

    This is perhaps the more important point to address:

    I don’t necessarily see that people working for a collectively owned firm would be less inclined to treat others as objects than those working for a publicly traded corporation — just as I don’t necessarily see that those who belong to a credit union would be less likely to use their money to buy porn than those who use for-profit banks.

    I don’t think cooperative economics is going to necessarily cause people to stop looking at others as objects. That is more of an end goal to be reached after generations of living and thinking differently. What I do believe, however, is that we have to start somewhere. What cooperative enterprises do is take the individual, isolated atoms and links them together, at first only materially. For it to succeed, everyone must be concerned with everyone else’s performance and well-being. One person’s problem quickly becomes everyone’s problem.

    Over time, these enterprises must cooperate with one another as the people within each one cooperate amongst themselves. And then, these enterprises cooperate with all of the other institutions in the community. A material sub-structure of cooperation is created, and our daily habits have undergone a transformation. A corresponding transformation of thinking and perceiving develops. Combined with a Catholic moral philosophy, ever-present in the life of the community, a new respect for others is developed.

    My main point is that consumerism is as much a complex of unconscious social programming as it is conscious reflection and activity. Our daily routines take on an ideological life of their own and influence the way we think about everything. Our Christian values can serve as a strong buffer against evil influences but values can only go so far. A rearrangement of the daily routine is also required so that our physical brains are in sync with what the mind and heart want.

    I probably should have said all that in the essay. If I decide to include it, I will credit you for it!

  • Original sin.

  • Joe,

    Thank you for your thoughtful and irenic response to my response. As I was writing, and as usual finding myself to run long, I was hoping that I wouldn’t come off as brash or aggressive. I hope I didn’t — but if I did I’m thankful that you took it in your stride.

    Hoping to continue in this vein:

    consumerism consistently appeals to our ‘lower nature’, to what is base and selfish within us, whether in the form of commercials, entertainment, eating, public events, etc. Our lower natures are easy to ensnare and enslave to addiction, ensuring repeat business.

    I agree that in the modern world the satisfaction of our baser instincts becomes a major temptation — specifically that emphasis on consuming which provides the illusion which we can satisfy our deeper human needs by owning or consuming some material thing.

    However, I’m not clear that this is the result of a capitalist economy so much as the natural reaction of our fallen nature to a wealthy society. Throughout history, we see those in a given society who are wealthy acting in much this way. The lure of consumption seems to be a constant in any society with enough material wealth to consume, regardless of its economic system. In this sense, I’m not sure that anything other than becoming significantly more poor would “solve” the problem, and then only via lack of opportunity.

    By this I don’t mean to ignore those teachings which have to do with moral behavior in the business realm, but rather to argue that this doesn’t represent a “move to his economic model and this will fix everying” prescription but rather an attempt by our popes in the last 140 years to provide us with a moving target idea of how to treat our brothers and sisters with the human dignity they deserve in whatever economic conditions we happen to find ourselves in at this time.

    Humans have always had selfish tendencies, but in previous forms of society, and in non-Western forms of society, these tendencies have consequences that people want to avoid. Part of the problem of consumerism is that it not only removes consequences for selfishness, but encourages it. That makes a pretty big difference, I’d say.

    Here I would disagree with you on two points:

    1) I don’t think it’s accurate to characterize previous and non-Western societies as having provided greater negative consequences to prevent selfishness than our modern society — except to the extent that these societies were poorer and lacked welfare and charitable institutions such that one had a greater incentive not to offend those in one’s community enough that they wouldn’t help you in need. However, even just looking at the Bible (parable of Dives and Lazarus, parable of the talents, parable of the treasure in the field, etc.) it seems to me pretty clear that people exercised selfishness to the maximum that they believed they could get away with.

    2) The characterization of our modern economy as encouraging selfishness strikes me as taking a somewhat self-defining view of what free exchange is. One can say that the principle of free exchange means that everyone will be best off if everyone has the maximum of selfishness, but one can just as well (and I would actually argue more accurately) describe the principle of free exchange as meaning that one many not expect to take any benefit from another person without providing that person with a benefit of equal value. In that it’s called “mutually beneficial” exchange, one might as well characterize it as consisting of making sure you always give as much as you get, as making sure that you get as much as you give.

    That said, modern capitalist society is most certainly sustained through violence – in other parts of the world. We’ve been down this road before; cheap third world labor is brutally exploited to make modern capitalist society a reality. Workers are denied their rights to organize, to political protest, to form unions and parties that will advance their interests. Repression means cheap labor which the West has not only taken advantage of but sought to preserve through policy.

    To the extent that this is true (I tend to think that you over-emphasize this element a bit, taking the worst excesses of developing world abuse and extrapolating them as if this was the universal experience of the deloping world), is that necessarily different from other societies. Within the medieval European world that I know a fair amount about, there was a long history of incredibly bloody peasant revolts. And even during “normal” times, the social order was maintained through what we would see as very repressive laws.

    For all that developing world industrial workers are kept from unionizing, feudal serfs could be flogged or worse simply for the offense of trying to leave their land and seek a better living somewhere else. (And never mind the slaves who formed the analogous workforce in much of the ancient world.) And for all that pay is often low in the developing world, serfs often lived on landed estates where not only was the amount of food left for them after the lord to his share small, but if they dared to “steal” the wild fish and game that could be caught on the land, the punishment was anywhere from flogging to hanging.

    Indeed, it seems to me that the primary exit from this kind of societal violence and repression is when a society becomes sufficiently developed that there is plenty of material wealth to go around.

    What cooperative enterprises do is take the individual, isolated atoms and links them together, at first only materially. For it to succeed, everyone must be concerned with everyone else’s performance and well-being. One person’s problem quickly becomes everyone’s problem.

    Over time, these enterprises must cooperate with one another as the people within each one cooperate amongst themselves. And then, these enterprises cooperate with all of the other institutions in the community. A material sub-structure of cooperation is created, and our daily habits have undergone a transformation.

    I know this is something we’ve bumped up against a number of times in the past, but I remain skeptical of this development path because my experience of the business world is that it already requires this kind of cooperation — and while I would certainly say it is possible to follow a path towards holiness in the modern capitalist economy, it doesn’t do the work of guiding us there for us. But I certainly cannot succeed in the absence of my coworkers and those who work for me doing so. Nor can a company succeed without helping those other companies it works with to prosper. It’s good, and pleasant, and that interconnectedness is one of the things that I enjoy about the business world, but I certainly don’t see it as necessarily guiding people towards a personal transformation away from consumerism.

    It strikes me as harder and easier than that — more work for us personally as we seek holiness and right-orderedness, yet less work in that these things do not require a re-ordering of economic institutions from the ground up.

    Not that I object to the employee owned enterprises that you admire (though I do suspect that they must end up running more top down than you imagine on a daily basis — or else they would have to be based on very non-complex business models) it’s just that I don’t necessarily see them as solving the problem that we’re discussing.

  • Darwin,

    Thanks again for responding.

    You write,

    However, I’m not clear that this is the result of a capitalist economy so much as the natural reaction of our fallen nature to a wealthy society.

    I think we should dispose of the phrase ‘capitalist economy’. I don’t think I once used the word ‘capitalism’ in my entire essay, or in my response to you. To me the major conflict in economics is between democracy and oligarchy. Democratic, cooperative firms based upon private property and marketplace competition would by most definitions be called ‘capitalist’.

    Next,

    this doesn’t represent a “move to his economic model and this will fix everying” prescription but rather an attempt by our popes in the last 140 years to provide us with a moving target idea of how to treat our brothers and sisters with the human dignity they deserve in whatever economic conditions we happen to find ourselves in at this time.

    I must say, neither of these are correct. No one is suggesting that ‘everything will be fixed’ – it is not a fair representation of what I believe.

    More importantly, however, the Popes have passed clear moral judgments on both economic liberalism and communism, and more recently on consumerism. Catholic social teaching is not, and cannot be made into, a guide for individuals to cope with unjust social structures. It is a guide for Catholics who do, or seek to, play a role in shaping society in various ways. I truly mean no offense, but I honestly cannot see how one can read a social encyclical or the Compendium and interpret them in the way that you do. Pius XI did not say, ‘when you find yourself in a society gone mad with individualism do a b and c, and when you find yourself in a communist dictatorship, do x, y, z” – he sharply condemned both ideologies, declared that they were unacceptable for Catholics, that they were in error, immoral, out of control.

    Regarding the dispute over past and present societies, it is clear to me that consumerism is a new breed of selfishness. Without disputing the basic idea that people have always been selfish, the point here is that they are now expected and encouraged to be. We are not expected to marry, bear children, participate in civic life, or any number of things that were expected of a person before. These things are now simply one among many choices at the great buffet of life. And now we see with fertility treatments, genetic manipulation, and transhumanism, attempts to reduce every aspect of the reproductive process itself to a consumer act. A nearly 70 year old woman even 100 years ago could not indulge a selfish desire to bear a child, but today she can – it is suicidal madness and a gross injustice if a being can even be born to a woman so old, but they will try because the technology is here.

    As you say people will push the limits, and the deal is that the limits have been pushed, further and further. Technology has made it possible remove natural restrictions on selfishness.

    We will agree to disagree I suppose on the amount of violence it takes to sustain the ‘American way of life’. 1.5 million dead babies a year through abortion is violence enough.

    As for the work situation, I don’t know exactly what kind of work you do, but I do know that the typical American business is not a ‘community of solidarity’ in any meaningful sense of the term. Workers are often interchangible parts in a money-making machine. Unless you are particularly skilled, you are expendable. 80% of Americans work for a wage.

    It should be clear that what I am talking about goes far beyond what passes for cooperation in America today. The culture of death finds a powerful impetus in social atomization – in the belief that one is essentially to be left alone to deal with one’s problems. In yet another contrast with the pre-modern world, this is something new. With the breakdown of family even that refuge is gone. JP II recognizes all of this in Evangelium Vitae – it is not only a tragedy but a moral indictment of this entire civilization.

    We do not see ourselves as our brother’s and sister’s keepers. We see them most of the time as competition. Maybe this has, again, always been true – but never before has it been a cherished and widely accepted dogma, promoted by official propaganda.

    So what the cooperative does is link our fates and fortunes together in a way that necessitates closer cooperation, the Christian ideal of civic friendship. It is not a quick solution to all problems, it is only intended to be the first step in breaking the cycle of consumerism, atomization, demoralization, and mass murder.

  • Joe,

    I must say, neither of these are correct. No one is suggesting that ‘everything will be fixed’ – it is not a fair representation of what I believe.

    More importantly, however, the Popes have passed clear moral judgments on both economic liberalism and communism, and more recently on consumerism. Catholic social teaching is not, and cannot be made into, a guide for individuals to cope with unjust social structures. It is a guide for Catholics who do, or seek to, play a role in shaping society in various ways. I truly mean no offense, but I honestly cannot see how one can read a social encyclical or the Compendium and interpret them in the way that you do.

    Well, I’ll be honest: I’ve never read Quadragesimo Anno. I read Rerum Novarum some years back, and I’ve read a number of John Paul II’s encyclicals as well as Benedict XVI’s two thus far, but that’s about it.

    I have read a number of sections of the Compendium of Social Doctrine, and to be honest (braces for possible condemnations from all sides) it really annoys me as a document. I can see what is being attempted, but when one dives into the footnotes it quickly becomes clear that a lot of observations and comments being made by the pope (mostly John Paul II, of course, his output having been so high) in various addresses, greetings and travels. However, these are served up in a format that strikes me as purposefully similar to the Catechism, thus often giving the impression that observations or judgements regarding a particular time and place (and not necessarily beyond question or with long track records in Christian doctrine) are given the impression of being absolute doctrines of the Church. This strikes me as symptomatic of a particular modern form of political ultramontanism which will pick out a papal statement on a given topic, however passing or predicated on assumptions which may or may not be correct, and pass that statement off as “the Church’s teaching on X”.

    Thus, I’ve been told at various points that, “The Church teaches that global warming is one of the greatest threats in our modern age.” Or “The Church teaches that greed is the primary cause of the financial crisis.”

    But I digress…

    How’s this for a good faith offer: I’ll commit to reading and systematically blogging through Quadragesimo Anno this summer — though because of existing writing commitments it may not be till around July — and blogging through it as I go. If you’d be interested and have time, we could even do it as a series of co-written posts. If nothing else, I’m sure that I’ll learn something.

    We will agree to disagree I suppose on the amount of violence it takes to sustain the ‘American way of life’. 1.5 million dead babies a year through abortion is violence enough.

    As a toss out thought: I would very much question whether a complete elimination of abortion (and the resulting million plus extra births each year) would actually decrease the US standard of living at all. Indeed, in the long run it might well increase it.

    As for the work situation, I don’t know exactly what kind of work you do, but I do know that the typical American business is not a ‘community of solidarity’ in any meaningful sense of the term. Workers are often interchangible parts in a money-making machine. Unless you are particularly skilled, you are expendable. 80% of Americans work for a wage.

    I certainly wouldn’t consider the massive corporation I work for right now as being a “community of solidarity”, but then, I’m not sure that any organization of much more than a dozen people can have tight solidarity — and by the time you’re in the hundreds it seems quite impossible. And I do work for a wage, though not an hourly one. (Like many skilled US workers, I’m classified as “exempt” which means that so long as I get my allotted work done my employer is not legally able to fuss to much about whether I do it in 45 of 55 hours, and pays me the same regardless.)

    I would, however, describe my team as having a strong sense of solidarity. The one I’ve been on for the last two years consists of ten people. We work together on a daily basis, help each other as needed, know each other personally, and cover for each other when we’re out. Our manager is very open with us in all decision making, and has an open policy that he doesn’t keep track of vacation and sick time so long as we give him a couple days notice and don’t abuse the privilage. (So for instance, two members of the team who have had significant health problems over the last year were both simply covered for rather than having to go on disability.)

    I would see this as being pretty much how things ought to work. And although I recognize that most people are not so lucky in their current situations as I, in many ways I don’t think it’s at all unattainable in our existing economy.

    I do, however, want to see small enterprise grow much larger. Currently there are 20 million small businesses in the US that have no payroll — which means they are one or two person enterprises where all the income goes straight to the owners. They accounted for $970 Billion in sales in 2006, an average of 46k per company. There are another 5 million companies with twenty employees or less, employing 21 million Americans. There’s certainly been a major growth in this small business over the last few decades, but seeing more would of course be better.

  • Ok, quick reply:

    1) On the Church’s social teaching – having read most if not all of the encyclicals that the Compendium references, I think it is a faithful representation of a consistent line of thought, developed in each new historical era by the popes. What some guy tells you is one thing; what the teaching actually says is another. Usually, I don’t reference the Compendium, or if I do, only once – the rest of the time, I go to the source.

    2) Your proposal: I like it – I would only suggest that we then read Mater et Magistra and Laborem Exercens. It can be an ongoing study, however long it takes.

    3) It doesn’t matter. That abortion is an essential requisite for the social mobility of women is an article of faith among feminists and most leftists in America, not to mention the millions of women who get the abortions and the men who also participate. You know you can’t even win the statistic wars when it comes to currently existing phenomenon – forget about it when it comes to projections into the future.

    On the rest: I’ll save it for Laborem Exercens.

  • Even quicker:

    On the Church’s social teaching – having read most if not all of the encyclicals that the Compendium references, I think it is a faithful representation of a consistent line of thought, developed in each new historical era by the popes.

    I’m sure it is accurate on the encyclicals. My beef with it (and maybe this was the particular sections which I read, which as I recall involved living wage, unemployment benefits, welfare and environmental restrictions) was that the footnotes for the concrete policies which I had criticisms of all sourced minor talks and addresses, not encyclicals. I didn’t like that these fairly minor venues were being used to back up very definite policy prescriptions as if they were required by Catholic doctrine. I’d certainly agree they’re compatible with Catholic doctrine, but I don’t think they’re the only policy prescriptions which Catholics can support.

Capitalism is 3rd World's Safety Net

Monday, March 16, AD 2009

While Americans weather layoffs and watch their 401ks dwindle, the developing nations in which many of our products originate are being hit even harder by the global downturn. Many of these developing nations have virtually no social safety net, and job loss can be crippling. However, as jobs manufacturing good to be sold to the West dry up, many are turning to the “informal economy” the open air markets, street vendors, and in-home manufacturers which make up more than half the economy in countries ranging from India and Mexico to much of sub-Saharan Africa.

The informal economy consists of cash and in-kind transactions and its practitioners do not pay taxes, hold licenses, or obey regulations. Pay is simply however much money is made, and there are no benefits. Because informal businessmen pay no taxes and work on a cash only basis (they seldom capitalize through loans, nor do they put savings into banks) economists have generally seen them as a drag on the economy. But as export-based jobs dry up, it provides a fallback safety net for many workers:

pilaporn_jaksuratUntil late December, Pilaporn Jaksurat, 33, was working full-time on a cotton spinning machine in a textile mill in Bangkok. She made about $7 a day and her benefits included bonuses of $30 a month for good attendance and a severance package worth about $800.

Then she was laid off when her factory, which sells fabric to clothing manufacturers in Europe, said it had to cut costs to cope with the global economic crisis.

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2 Responses to Capitalism is 3rd World's Safety Net

  • I thought the free market was an uncharitable monster. And I thought that the underground economy was only for drugs and guns.

    Why do you have to go and use reality to smash stereotypes, you capitalist freedom-loving monster.

  • Wilhelm Röpke had a lot of insight into this.