PopeWatch: Ideology Bad

Tuesday, October 22, AD 2013



Pope Francis thinks it is a bad thing when Christianity becomes an ideology.  PopeWatch believes that throughout History people with ideologies have attempted to use Christianity.  However, Christianity as an ideology is a new one as far as PopeWatch is concerned.  Father Z is also puzzled:

Here is something that the Pope said:

It is, he said, “the image of those Christians who have the key in their hand, but take it away, without opening the door,” and who “keep the door closed.”

Asking those present how a Christian is able to fall into this attitude, the Pope reflected that “The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon (people).”

Noting that it is a “lack of Christian witness does this,” he stressed that “when this Christian is a priest, a bishop or a Pope it is worse.”

“When a Christian becomes a disciple of ideology,” urged the Pope, “he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought,” and “the knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge.

Ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people,” he stressed, stating that it is because of this that many are distanced from the Church.

“It is a serious illness, this Christian ideology. It is an illness, but it is not new,” he said, recalling how the Apostle John alludes to this mentality in his first letter.

Pope Francis then emphasized that the attitude of those who lose their faith in preference of personal ideologies is “rigid, moralistic, ethical, but without kindness.

“But why is it that a Christian can become like this? Just one thing: this Christian does not pray. And if there is no prayer, you always close the door.”

“The key that opens the door to the faith,” the Pope noted, “is prayer,” and “when a Christian does not pray, this happens. And his witness is an arrogant witness.”

The Christian who does not pray, urged the Pope, is “arrogant, is proud, is sure of himself. He is not humble. He seeks his own advancement…when a Christian prays, he is not far from the faith; he speaks with Jesus.”

When we pray, the Pope reflected, Jesus tells us to “go into your room and pray to the Father in secret, heart to heart,” because “It is one thing to pray, and another thing to say prayers.”

Those who do not pray abandon the faith, stressed the Pope, and allow it to become a “moralistic, casuistic ideology, without Jesus.”


The Holy Father’s passion is clear and strong, isn’t it?   It is a little stirring to read this.  I’ll bet it is even more so to hear it in person.   But …

The Pope’s language about ideology is so vague that I can’t for the life of me make out who or what he is talking about.  It could be that he has a first name and a last name in mind, but I have no idea who she might be.

Does anyone know what he is talking about?  Really?

Go back and read over the report again and ask yourself if you truly understand what he is talking about.

Does the spanish for “ideology”, which may be behind his thought, have some nuance of meaning that is different from English or Italian?

What did the Pope really say in this short, non-magisterial fervorino?

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19 Responses to PopeWatch: Ideology Bad

  • “Hermeneutic of Rorschachity”. Perfect. Everything the Pope has said so far “can” be interpreted via the “Hermeneutic of Continuity” including this one (e.g. it’s one of the temptations Screwtape proposes in C.S. Lewis’ screwtape letters), but most non-Catholics will interprete it via the “Hermeneutic of Discontinuity”, so his words say a lot about you and your suspicions of the Pope and little about the Pope actually means since no-one really knows that.

  • “means since no-one really knows that.”

    I think that is rather the problem AW.

  • ” . . . about the Pope actually means since no-one really knows that.”

    “Ay, there’s the rub. ” Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1, “To be or not . . . “

  • To crib from the Pope, I think the interpretive keys are there, if one chooses to insert them in the door.

    To whit: is there any way this could *naturally* be interpreted as a rebuke to the spirituality of a “Nun on the Bus” or Jesuit university president?

    I’m sure a labored exegesis could be cobbled together to do so, but likewise, one could read Nicholas Sparks through Anthony Trollope.

  • I think the Pope makes perfect sense if you listen to his words. We need to be a people of “prayer” not of ideology. The ‘truth’ rings with his explanation.

  • “Ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people,” he stressed, stating that it is because of this that many are distanced from the Church.

    This is true. It is also incomplete, since the reverse is also true. Turning the Gospel into an ideology could also attract people to the Church for the wrong reasons – that is, if such an ideology radiates from the Church. It would be more likely that such an ideology would come from outside and mask itself as a “modern” form of the Gospel in order to capture and neuter the Church, but that is another story,

  • I have no trouble understanding the holy father, some one who is concerned with rules and regulations might have difficulty.

  • From wiki, but a decent enough definition:

    An ideology is a set of conscious and unconscious ideas that constitute one’s goals, expectations and actions. An ideology is a comprehensive vision, a way of looking at things (compare worldview) as in several philosophical tendencies (see political ideologies), or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to all members of this society (a “received consciousness” or product of socialization).

    So, the HF has a problem with someone having a comprehensive vision? The HF himself has a comprehensive vision, even if that “vision” is that there is no comprehensive vision. Was scares people off is that the Church claims its comprehensive vision is true – and they are afraid it just might be, calling into question some of their own beliefs and practices. In other words, reality bites.

  • Everybody has concern with favored rules and regulations, Bill T. It’s just that the Bishop of Rome simply hasn’t gotten around to criticizing *yours* yet.

  • Honestly, Don, it seems pretty clear to me who he’s singling out for castigation here. And this blog post (which approves of the criticism) spells it out:


  • I might very well have agreed with you Dale but for this latest development which will be featured in PopeWatch tomorrow:


    I don’t think there is a chance in the world that Muller wrote this without the Pope’s approval. We shall see.

  • One thing is for sure, ideology is all too often wrapped up in religious tinsel. And this problem exists at the highest levels of the Church. All one has to is look at statements from hte bishops in not just the U.S. but the west in general regarding issues like war, economics, immigration, and capital punishment. And to some extent this problem has been exacerbated in varying degrees by statements of the last few pontiffs.

    I think using Pope Francis’ statement on ideology as an opportunity to discuss this problem would be much better than telling the world how demoralized you are about how he says these things.

  • I am very confused by most everything this Pope says. Pope Benedict was very precise and exact and detail-oriented, and as a nuclear engineer I like that. Pope John Paul II was very deep philosophically and could even talk credibly and accurately about scientific things (my field of expertise). But the current Pontiff demonstrates no logic, no reason, no continuity, just liberal platitudes.

  • I think the section at the end is key, where Francis says that the sign that someone has an ideological rather than a faith approach is that he doesn’t pray. So if you and people like you pray, he’s clearly not talking about you.

    Of course, the only people I can think of who think prayer is no longer needed are way out on the left…

  • I think that the Pope was speaking to each of us individually, presenting the question: Am I, as a Catholic, simply going through the motions and thinking that I have prayed after distractedly or thoughtlessly recited prayers that I have memorized, or am I actually turning my heart to the Lord–alone, in my room or in a chapel, let’s say–recognizing my own sins, my need for His help, my gratitude for all He has given me and recognition of all the prayers He’s already answered, and additional need for guidance as to what I can do to make this world a little better for those nearest to me and those farthest from me–that’s my take on his words.

  • A Wang takes a tried and true approach, which is to blame the critics who are trying to make sense of this pope’s contradictory gibberish. I feel much more for those who are trying to continually pass on his shockingly divisive statements, rhetoric he shows no concern about backing away from.

    Here is the situation: Benedict XVI: top PhD (1953) at a top theologate (Munich), and post-doctoral dissertation. JP2: top PhD at the Angelicum (1948) with post doctoral dissertation at the Jagiellonian U (Krakow). This Bergoglio pope: failed to complete his dissertation and degree at Frankfurt. No apparent advanced work, other than a master’s at a not-well-known S American theologate (Buenos Aires) in the late 1960’s. No other known advanced degrees in other fields. This is the person that now is running the premier spiritual corporation in the world—like dropout being president of and running Harvard or Stanford? (Those institutions wouldnt tolerate that, we can be sure.)

    Francis throws around terms the ramifications of which he clearly doesnt understand and I am sure by now he doesnt care to analyze…because he is an ideologue, too: of Vatican II, something he says has never been tried (???). His contradictory statements don’t matter to him: he’s been able to do it for about 40 years and nobody ever challenged him on it. They all got stars in their eyes and began muttering wonderful accolades when he opened his mouth (a common path to advancement in the modern Society of Jesus). There is a serious problem, and Father Z, to his credit, is trying to justify his gibberish. But a silk purse it is not.

    He doesnt care much about tradition and what happened before 1965 because it was all cancelled by Vatican II. All those wonderful people like Rahner and Congar and Schillebeeckx and Kung (the latter of whom now says he has left the Catholic Church). And I doubt he has read them (I would give him a pass if he said he doesnt understand Rahner, because I dont think anyone really does) and he doesnt understand them. And that is where we are today.

  • Just after reading the first 2 paragraphs of “what the Pope said” it reminded me very much of the criticisms leveled against Catholics by Some evangelical and anti Catholic Christians who think that what Catholics have is “religion” -not a faith relationship with the Person of Christ.

    As I read the rest, I did have hard time following him. I get that he is saying that the way to have that “kindness” and not be “rigid, moralistic or ethical” is to pray. But I don’t see what exactly is the perceived problem he may be talking about. He says humble prayer with the heart is the answer to this “ideology” problem.
    Since I think that as Catholics we do have a certain “world view”: a humble way of looking at things in general, knowing that we were, after all, created Ex Nihilo. And there is nothing wrong with that.
    Just like the anti catholic view of what Some evangelicals call “religion”, This view of Catholic perspective, called ideology seems a bit uncharitable…saying that people are keeping the door closed and walking away with the key , having become disciples of their own thought . At the same time this pope has reminded of the primacy of conscience and the proximity of his own thought with that of an atheist. So the mis-application of terminology, or at least unclear use is tough enough in this reflection without thinking of ot on context with his other reflections.
    Unless I totally misunderstood. He seems more generous in his latitude for the Rest of the World than his fellow Catholics.

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  • Yet another example of a writer with column to fill that is just looking for a fight that does not exist. Plain English: Christ is first, never below or intertwined within an ideology.

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

Thursday, January 12, AD 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    When someone makes such an elementary historical mistake like this, it is difficult to take them very seriously

  • Yeah, I had to pick what to go after, but I think that the idea that Burke and Smith had an overly rosy idea of what capitalism because it hadn’t got big enough yet strikes me as springing form a simplistic kind of anachronism in which one assumes that everything was simpler in the “old days”. Joint stock companies were, obviously, both huge and very, very powerful in the 1700s. (Heck, the East India Company had its own army.) And Smith and Burke weren’t naive about the temptations of capitalism. It was, after all, Smith who said, “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public.”

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  • Hi – Thanks for the attention to my post. It is just a blog post. I am familiar with the extensive ventures organized at joint-stock corporations prior to the 19th century. In nearly all cases, these were (if I am not mistaken) more or less official government-chartered monopolies that made possible extensive investments (i.e. in trade). By “joint-stock corporation” I am speaking about the common usage today, for an eneterprise that is not a kind of state-sponsored monopoly. Mr McClarey comment from Smith indicates the clear purpose of such corporations (i.e. to serve BOTH the state and the shareholders), and that such corporations should have their privileges revised if they no longer serve the state. This seems a far cry from the way joint-stock corporations have functioned for the last century-plus, to which I was referring in my post.

  • Yes David, you are mistaken. Corporations had to be granted existence by Parliament, but they operated in precisely the same way as large publicly traded corporations do today. They often got into bed with government, as Adam Smith noted and dreaded, just as such corportations do today.

The Advantage of Ideology

Thursday, July 8, AD 2010

One of the main problems with politics is that it is complicated. Take, for example, the recently passed health care bill. The bill was over 2,000 pages. I haven’t read it. Neither, I imagine, have most of our readers (indeed, it would not surprise me if no single person has read every word of the bill, though obviously each of the bill’s many provisions has been read by someone).

Of course, even if someone had read every word of the bill, this would not be sufficient to have a truly informed position on it. To have a truly informed position one would have to not only read the bill but understand it. And to do that would require a great deal of knowledge about fields as complicated and diverse as the law, medicine, political science, economics, bureaucratic management, etc.

And, mind you, even if one were somehow able to master and muster all of this information, that would only entitle one to a have a truly informed position on that one bill.

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0 Responses to The Advantage of Ideology

  • I want to offer an alternative take on ideology. My starting point is the definition by the under-recognized genius of North American psychology, Silvan S. Tomkins.

    “Ideology is a tightly-woven set of ideas about things about which he can be least certain and therefore are most passionate.”

    What is the correct way to raise a child or a create a just and equal society? Are numbers discovered or invented.

    There are ideologies in all fields of human endeavor and we need to be as critical of our own ideologies as those of our opponents.

    Tomkins points out that all ideologies required faith precisely because of our inability to be certain.
    Thus there is the faith of the scientist and the Marxist, and the Christian.

    I think this approach is more fruitful and an accurate description of human affairs.

    Ideologies may be simple or complex whether of the right or the left. We are all ideologues. Pretending otherwise simply hides the rage and hate that is counter-productive to intelligent discussion and displaces them on to our ideological opponents.

    “We are rational; you are a destuctive ideologue.” This comes from both the right and the left. We need to debate critically all ideologies on their content, conservative vs liberal ideology.

    Let’s not pretend everyone of us without exception is an ideologue of a thousand ideologies about all sorts of things. We need to hold them lightly and critically lest we destroy each other with our unacknowledged and counter-productive passions, as Tocqueville has warned us.

  • Very interesting. Is there anything that can be done to get ideologues to realize the limits of their knowledge? Is there any way to get them to place their trust in people with more complex ideologies?

  • Excellent post here. I would elaborate on this further to say that, for the same reasons you find it impossible not to rely upon ideology/politics, I and others would find it impossible not to rely, at least to some extent, upon political action committees and lobbyists to advocate for the policies we favor.

    I know it’s practically de rigeur to decry the influence of lobbyists, PACs, etc. upon the political process — and don’t get me wrong, there is much that could be changed — but the bottom line is, lobbyists and PACs are simply individuals or groups who make it their full time job to track, advocate, and oppose legislation on behalf of other concerned citizens who don’t have the time, ability, or resources to do it themselves.

    Individual letters, e-mails, etc. are of course valuable, but the fact remains, if it weren’t for groups like the National Right to Life Committee, Susan B. Anthony List, state Catholic Conferences or National/State (fill in the blank) Associations writing newsletters, sending out action alerts, organizing trips to Washington or state capitals, etc. we’d have an even harder time getting our viewpoints heard. Of course, “our” lobbyists are devoted, hardworking advocates but “theirs” are merely fat cats trying to buy influence 🙂

  • I agree wholeheartedly about the limits of ideology; but I’m skeptical about your bias towards action. Why must we form an opinion about every political topic? Is articulating an uninformed and ideologically biased opinion a more valuable contribution to the common good than a simple statement that one is not informed enough to comment? It seems to me that on-line, at least, we have no shortage of the former, and that the effect is hardly salutary.

    For example, I have an antecedent bias against the current financial reform bill; this is based on my work experience with Sarbanes-Oxley, and a number of textbooks and papers I’ve read over the years that suggest to me as a general matter that Congressmen are woefully ignorant on these topics and that their actions are likely to do more harm than good.

    At the same time, I have not read the current financial reform bill or even enough secondary commentary on the bill to form an educated opinion. I am certain there is some wheat mixed with chaff (even a blind squirrel finds an acorn, etc.). For that reason, I’ve elected not to form a strong opinion about the bill one way or the other because, while I have ideological presuppositions, I lack a firm basis for their application in this circumstance. Forming an educated opinion about something is hard work. And most people have neither the time or the inclination (and sometimes the intellectual ability) to put in that hard work.

    I think your defense of ideology is fine insofar as it acknowledges a basic truth about the limits of being human; we cannot learn and think through everything, and so we must rely on ideologies and authority as shortcuts for decision-making in every day life. But I don’t see why we shouldn’t insist on ideology plus knowledge for political discourse (as opposed to every day life) – without both knowledge and ideology political discourse is, in my experience, a waste of time. I only care that my accountant can do my taxes; if he’s a 9/11 truther or has ‘questions’ about Obama’s birth certificate, that’s not really my problem as long as he does his job well. A political commentator who expresses such opinions, on the other hand, is pernicious, and I’d rather he or she either learned their facts or stopped talking. To put the point too strongly, it seems to me you’re suggesting they should just keep spewing ideological nonsense on the grounds that ideology is necessary (I agree it may be inevitable that they will keep spreading nonsense either way; I’m just not sure it’s desirable). Why shouldn’t we insist that people take the time to form educated opinions before opining?

  • How do political principles fit into the understanding of ideology you present here?

    Do you think there is such a thing as a true political principle?

  • Zach,

    A good political principle is one that is true in most, but not necessarily all, cases. One could perhaps come up with examples of political principles that were true in all cases, but I suspect they would be either overly complicated or vacuous.

  • Given the definitions here, it seems to me that probably there is a happy balance to be found between ideology and partisanship, in that based on an a set of ideological principles which hold true most of the time, one accepts the judgment of factions or individuals who also accept those principles as to how to apply those principles to individual circumstances and whether to make exceptions.

    One other though, in regards to John Henry’s point: I’d agree that it’s sometimes advisable not to sound off too much about a particular issue due to one’s lack of specific knowledge, however, I don’t think that necessarily means supporting (or not opposing) a specific measure. Though, of course, that may in turn be another ideological distinction: broadly speaking conservatives following “when in doubt, don’t change anything” approach while progressives follow a “when in doubt, redesign and regulate” approach.

  • BA,

    When I read the title of your post, I immediately completed the thought with: “…is that it lowers the transaction costs of political participation.”

    I didn’t even have to read the article because all that economics ideology did it for me. 🙂

  • Though, of course, that may in turn be another ideological distinction: broadly speaking conservatives following “when in doubt, don’t change anything” approach while progressives follow a “when in doubt, redesign and regulate” approach.

    I think that’s right. I guess my proposed ‘shut up unless you’re fully informed’ standard is open to two pretty strong critiques (and I’m sure there are others):

    1) It’s unrealistic; that’s not how people operate and it might actually hurt the level of discourse (a half-informed BA is probably better than the vast majority of partisans out there). It requires some level of sophistication for a person to even realize how uninformed they are – and those are hardly the people we want to exclude.

    2) There’s little evidence that the politicians who enact legislation meet this standard; if the people passing the laws often are guided by crude simplifications and caricatures, it’s not clear that citizens should be held to a higher standard in critiquing their votes.

  • John Henry,

    I think the issue you are raising is the issue of democracy. Throughout most of human history societies have been governed by a small elite, which in theory possessed a greater level of ability than average and could devote more time to studying the subject. Over the past few hundred years, more and more people have come around to the view that you can’t really trust a small group to act in the interest of society as a whole, and that whatever is gained in terms of increased information by those in politics is more than outweighed by the risk of self-dealing. On the other hand, most societies don’t operate via direct democracy, so there is still a sense that some level of expertise among the policy makers is advantageous, though it must be kept in check.

    If you want to decrease the role of ideology in politics, you have a couple of options. One would be to decrease your reliance on democracy. That might mean more reliance on experts or other authority figures, or it might involve a more libertarian approach, where certain questions are left up to the individual to decide for him or herself.

    The other option is education. The more educated a populace, the more sophisticated their views are likely to be. I don’t think it’s an accident that the rise of democracy and the rise of education have gone hand in hand.

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Set Me Free (From Ideologies) Part 3

Thursday, May 6, AD 2010

The Catholic Church is the biggest defender and promoter of the large traditional family. This endorsement of large families is something that tests the loyalties of ideologues because the Church doesn’t conform to liberal or conservative political pressures.  The more-or-less typical liberal ideologue seems to take on the ideal of saving the global environment by way of discouraging the Church’s teachings on Life and Family issues.  The more-or-less conservative ideologue often takes on the approach to economic theory that goes something like- “you breed em’ you feed em'”. I don’t find much support for either of these hard positions in the actual teachings and guidance given us via Christ’s Church.

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12 Responses to Set Me Free (From Ideologies) Part 3

  • “The right to property is closely connected with the existence of families, which protect themselves from need thanks to savings and to the building up of property.”

    Perhaps also an argument against the Estate Tax.

  • Phillip- I think the estate tax is an interesting one in that it is – at the fed level- directed only at multimillionaire holdings, with exemptions for operational family farm estates and small businesses- and it is a tax that has strange bedfellows- I read a good book on preserving the estate tax by Bill Gates Sr. and Chuck Collins- Wealth and our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes- there are many who feel that extreme inheritances tend to create an aristocratic presence that undermines the meritocracy element in American society which was in part a reaction against the old Euro-aristocracies.

  • Actually I will defer as you may be correct. But you also may be wrong on how much businesses and small farms are protected. For example:


    It might not be the Gates’ children only that are affected. But I will let others who have more expertise in this address.

  • Perhaps the ammendments to the law discussed in the bill above were passed.

  • Regarding the estate tax, I like Greg Mankiw’s thought experiment on it:

    Consider the story of twin brothers – Spendthrift Sam and Frugal Frank. Each starts a dot-com after college and sells the business a few years later, accumulating a $10 million nest egg. Sam then lives the high life, enjoying expensive vacations and throwing lavish parties. Frank, meanwhile, lives more modestly. He keeps his fortune invested in the economy, where it finances capital accumulation, new technologies, and economic growth. He wants to leave most of his money to his children, grandchildren, nephews, and nieces.

    Now ask yourself: Which millionaire should pay higher taxes?… What principle of social justice says that Frank should be penalized for his frugality? None that I know of.

  • I don’t want this entry to become all about the estate tax debate- I will just end it here with the recommendation to anyone wanting to go deeper with that one to find the Gate’s book I mentioned above and offer a critique of the many arguments and proofs he lays out there for that particular tax. So, if you want to debate the tax please someone write up their own entry and/or do a short critique of the book’s main points if you have time for the research.

  • Fair enough, but the estate tax is an instructive example of why it’s difficult to make blanket policy prescriptions based on CST. Clearly, the argument against plutocracy works in favor of the tax, but Mankiw’s horizontal equity illustration goes against it. CST does not cut neatly across party/ideological lines as some would have you believe.

  • Without getting into exactly what form(s) of taxation are best- what about the proposals from the Church on having subsidies for families to reach a true family wage, and having remuneration for domestic work- I’m thinking mostly of stay at home moms working hard taking proper care of the kids and abode- what about these specific ideas?

  • About the only safe thing that one can say about tax policy derived from CST is that taxes should not unnecessarily burden the poor. After that it is pretty much all prudential.

    The example of family farms regarding the EGT is a good one. Such farms are subject to the same exemption as any other estate assets. Until this year 3.5MM and back down to 1MM I think next year. Is that exemption too low? Why? Are farms different from other businesses, aside from all too common romantic attractions? Wouldn’t most Americans love to own a $1MM farm?

    The risk of plutocratic cross-generational wealth accumulation is belied by the real facts, which are that family wealth becomes less concentrated and generally diminishes over generations. Ask the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Kennedys, Dukes, etc.

    This is not to say that the EGT cannot be justified, but the arguments are less stark. It is true that there is something a bit unappealing about children and grandchildren living off the hard work of their ancestors, but those ancestors may well have under taken the initiatives they did precisely because of a desire to take care of their progeny. After all they choose their heirs.

    Similar problems abound with income taxes. While ability to pay is certainly a valid factor in the calculus of tax fairness, one cannot dismiss that disparities in that factor have a substantial choice component. While most everyone wants to be rich, few people are willing to undertake the combination of risk, hard work, and discipline required. It is easier to let the other guy do it and just slice off a piece.

  • I for one, as a hardworking mother at home, would most definitely like to see some sort of recognition that what we do is real work.

    Socializing and nurturing children; providing their earliest (and some would say most crucial) formation as human beings and citizens; guiding and directing their habits, hygiene, and studies; teaching them the fundamental skills to cope with danger, challenge, and the unexpected; watching over their nutrition, environment, and exercise … The list of what I do goes on and on. A day-care worker doesn’t do everything I do, and what she/he does isn’t done as efficiently because the time to do it comes only in pieces.

    These are important tasks. Stay-at-home parents should be able to do them without having to pay for the privilege.

    Finally, families create stability in a culture, and tax laws, just like all other laws, ought to recognize that fact and adjust accordingly.

  • Sibyl,

    I agree completely. In the abstract, the state should promote the traditional family structure. The larger the family, the greater should be the benefits. Special loans or grants should be given by banks for family businesses or any sort of family financial endeavor.

    Ultimately, though, Christian families must come to rely on each other. So the state should not enshrine the nuclear family, which in my view can become a restrictive fifedom for domineering parents.

    I hate to use that stupid line, but it is true that “it takes a village” – its just that it takes a Christian village, a Catholic village, a community and a parish rooted in traditional Christianity. It doesn’t take the socialist welfare state that Hillary Clinton was talking about.

    I’m not an old man but I’ve seen enough to know that many couples struggle financially in vain. If they would loosen their grip on “their property”, their territory, “their” children (which even good people in today’s society treat more and more like possessions or pets), then many of their problems could be resolved.

    This is how the Mexican community often operates; many families sharing resources. Of course the families are usually related. Its why they can be relatively poor and still out-breed blacks and Caucasians in the United States. They don’t have “more kids than they can afford” – they share burdens among themselves.

    We don’t need to rely on blood relations the way a lot of ethnic communities do. We have a spiritual community; the Body of Christ. But we don’t use it. We are all afraid of one another, afraid to “impose”, afraid to “overstep”, afraid to “offend”, afraid to offer ourselves. If you aren’t completely self-sufficient, you’re a “loser.” You can turn to the anonymous state for help without being judged.

    This is a problem in attitude we need to address. One day, if I have the resources, I will start my own Christian community. Nothing fancy – just encourage Christian families with the same values to live on the same street, send their kids to the same school (or possibly establish a private homeschool), maybe even jointly own a local business together, and see where it goes. It will have to be a community where people trust one another, where parents trust other parents to watch and teach their children for a day (and how much better would that be than some atheist from the teacher’s union pushing homosexual propaganda?).

    Sorry to ramble on. I just believe Christians should voluntarily renounce individualism and materialism.

  • Joe- I’m pretty much with you- I have been dreaming of starting or joining some kind of family monastic movement such as you described- I also wrote up a Catholic Education vision document which hasn’t made it very high in the food chain as of yet- where part of it is to create businesses in Catholic schools along the lines of lasermonks.com, I envision different types of consumer products being made and sold in Catholic communities and schools- bringing much needed monetary resources into Catholic schools which are reeling from steep tuition charges and an over-reliance on a few wealthy benefactors.

    As for the whole State welfare dilemma- I think it is made more complex by our embrace of the global economy whereupon the corporate culture has moved into highly mobile mode, picking up and moving around the country and world- the worker bees must keep up- and so we move about the country, pulling up stakes and putting more and more distance between immediate and extended family members- and one result has been that families and even neighbors are less likely to have formed the deeper bonds of friendship, trust and so forth, so we don’t feel comfortable asking for help from even our parish families because of that body-soul thing- grace builds upon nature- and though we share a spiritual communion we are simultaneously caught up in our cultural milieu that has us moving around, and busily attending to all the other time-takers in life- commuting time, kids activities, face time with our own spouses and children, and down time after stressful work days- what is lacking is the time to spend just hanging out in community at our parishes developing the purely human relationships where we actually know each other;s life circumstances and then feel the call to help or seek help in immediate things like financial crisis and so forth- as it is, if I get laid off chances are the house is put up for sale and the job search becomes a national one because you have to move with the tide of job opps- for good or ill this puts more of us into situations where government funded safety nets are very important- when you have more kids, you need more assurances- not everyone is going to have the call/vocation to start a business from scratch or have some unique talent that translates readily into a fabulous market position in the economy of the moment.

Is Arguing About Politics a Waste of Time?

Friday, April 30, AD 2010

This study suggests an interesting reason why that may be the case:

The investigators used functional neuroimaging (fMRI) to study a sample of committed Democrats and Republicans during the three months prior to the U.S. Presidential election of 2004. The Democrats and Republicans were given a reasoning task in which they had to evaluate threatening information about their own candidate. During the task, the subjects underwent fMRI to see what parts of their brain were active. What the researchers found was striking.

“We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning,” says Drew Westen, director of clinical psychology at Emory who led the study. “What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involved in resolving conflicts.” Westen and his colleagues will present their findings at the Annual Conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Jan. 28.

Once partisans had come to completely biased conclusions — essentially finding ways to ignore information that could not be rationally discounted — not only did circuits that mediate negative emotions like sadness and disgust turn off, but subjects got a blast of activation in circuits involved in reward — similar to what addicts receive when they get their fix, Westen explains.

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16 Responses to Is Arguing About Politics a Waste of Time?

  • Thanks for sharing this. The findings of this study seems to correspond very well with reality.

  • Studies such as this are indeed interesting.

    I caution against an extreme over-reliance on cold calculation and equally extreme disavowals of the validity and legitimacy of human emotions.

    We have emotions and instincts for a reason – survival. They alert us to threats and dangers and they provide incentives to avoid bad situations.

    Of course reason is a higher function, one unique to man, and so we should always strive for rational analysis. What I see so often, though, are claims that these two ways of analyzing and experiencing things are mutually exclusive. They are not.

    In the modern world I believe the tension between the two stems from what I would call an information overload. In past societies, and this is just a hypothesis, people had limited and often highly trusted sources of information – the church, their local leaders, etc.

    Now there is a deluge of data, and even people with above average intelligence and education can’t be sure who to trust, especially in politics, especially in the social sciences. How can we know that the methodologies used are sound? That their creators aren’t ideologically biased? Climategate shows we cannot be sure, that the science is not settled, and that the person who claims to bring you “the facts” could be bringing you falsehoods.

    What positions we take in politics, I believe, comes down to a few things – and one of them is who we put our trust in for an accurate picture of reality.

    We also have a legitimate desire to pick a side and stick with it. Once we do that, we just want to go about our business, we want our side to prevail.

    I’ve changed teams more than once in my life and it gets old. Not only that, but when you do it, people question your stability and resolve. Consistency is so highly valued among people of all educational and intelligence levels that people will forgo changing their opinion in the face of clear evidence so that they don’t appear to have been wrong. There is massive pressure to be consistent, and less pressure to simply be right.

    Of course, oftentimes, people aren’t mentally agile enough to understand that things they believe are contradictions are only really antagonisms. So they will embrace contradiction instead of exploring the possibility that the two premises are both true.

  • “At the same time, it is somewhat troubling that people are (paradoxically) the least rational about the subjects in which they are the most emotionally invested.”

    I don’t see the paradox. I expect this all the time, especially in myself.

    Aren’t dispassion and “apatheia” normally considered virtues that correct emotionalism?

    How many partisans are actually familiar with the basic rules of logic and non-contradiction? Their basic failure is they forget that only God is above criticism.

  • One must be careful with such studies. First, no one really knows how the brain works. We have a good sense of what parts of the brain do, but some areas of the brain such as the frontal lobes are still unclear. Also how neural networks interact to aid thought is quite another thing.

    Then there are concerns about fMRI actually proving what it sets out to do. Many questions here especially about other stimuli during the test interfering etc. Also questions about statistical methods. See here:


    Bottom line. In 100 years this study might be in the medical library next to phrenology.

  • “and politically neutral male control figures such as actor Tom Hanks”

    An odd choice considering that Hanks is a left wing activist and appeared in the Dan Brown Catholic bashing Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.

    Color me unimpressed by the study. We are in our infancy in understanding the human brain and I think we will never truly comprehend the human mind. Political beliefs can change swiftly depending upon the circumstances: Reagan Democrats, Obama Republicans, etc, and I believe most people are always susceptible to a convincing argument. It may not convince them today, but it may give food for thought that will cause a modification in belief down the road combined with other factors.

    “In 100 years this study might be in the medical library next to phrenology.”

    Words to live by Phillip in regard to much of cutting edge science.

  • I take your point that our understanding of brain functioning is incomplete. At the same time, even if the observations about the specific areas of the brain incorrect, the study still provides strong evidence about the behavior of partisans. We may be wrong about the mechanism, but not the behavior. The specific criticisms you raise relate to behavior.

    An odd choice considering that Hanks is a left wing activist and appeared in the Dan Brown Catholic bashing Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.

    The study was conducted in 2004. The Da Vinci Code came out in 2006; Hanks has never been a particularly controversial figure. Additionally, the study found that people were able to identify hypocritical statements when made by Mr. Hanks and the opposing candidate; just not when made by their preferred candidate. This suggests Mr. Hanks was not closely identified by the respondents with either party.

    Political beliefs can change swiftly depending upon the circumstances: Reagan Democrats, Obama Republicans, etc, and I believe most people are always susceptible to a convincing argument.

    Of course, people can change their minds. What this study highlights is that committed partisans – not the sort of people who change their minds every election – appear to be unable to process new information effectively. Again, this is true whether you accept the posited physical mechanisms or not; confirmation bias is a widely recognized and studied phenomenon.

  • Actually John Henry, I think committed partisans are often able to process new information quite effectively in support of their position. Rather like scientists who get a grant to run an experiment and, mirabile dictu, the data from the experiment supports the thesis they had before the experiment was run.

    There are many more things in Heaven and in Earth when it comes to human reasoning than are dreamt of by Westen and his brain scanners.

    Oh, and Mr. Westen is a partisan Democrat and a pretty silly one to boot. He believes that Democrats lose elections because they make rational arguments while Republicans rely upon emotional arguments:

    “In the last forty-five years, the American people have elected only three Democratic residents of the United States. Democrats—from the grassroots on up to the party leadership—are befuddled, confused, and angry. What led me to write this book was exactly what leads people to do everything they do, including vote: strong emotions. And that’s the central message of the book. Everything we know about mind, brain, and politics tells us that there are three things that determine how people vote, in this order: their feelings toward the parties, their feelings toward the candidates, and, if they haven’t decided by then, their feelings toward the candidates’ policy positions. Democrats have insisted on starting at the bottom of this hierarchy, practicing “trickle up” politics—the theory that voting decisions trickle up from voters’ rational assessments of candidates’ policy positions. Trickle up politics turns out to be as valid as trickle down economics. The proof is in the White House, the Congress, and the federal judiciary. The antidote lies not in familiar prescriptions of moving to the center or the left but simply in moving the electorate. The way to win elections, particularly against a party that understands how to move people, is to understand the political brain—how it evolved, how it works, and how central emotion is to it.”


    Democrats don’t lose elections in the view of Mr. Westen because their policies stink. They lose elections because they are too rational! This is the junkiest of junk science.

  • Drew Westen is a regular columnist at the Huffington Post and here is a link to a column where he tells Democrats how to sell the pro-abort message:


    “Obama wasn’t going to win over the majority of Warren’s parishioners, but he could have spoken to them in their own language while winning the hearts and minds of the majority who were listening on television. He might have begun by acknowledging the obvious, that he knew he wasn’t going to convince most of Pastor Rick’s flock, but that he was nonetheless one of them, with a comment like, “Well, I knew at some point I was going to be in there with the lions. I know many of you won’t agree with me, but I hope my answer at least leaves you with as much respect for me and my beliefs as I have for you and yours.” He could then have continued, once again drawing them in while addressing concerns about him that had been raised in recent weeks, “The Bible says that pride is a sin, and I’d be showing more pride than even John McCain thinks I have, with those celebrity and Moses ads, if I told you that I know with certainty when life begins. I wish I did, because then this would be an easy question. But here’s where I stand”:

    No one truly knows what’s in the mind of God, and I just don’t like the idea of government telling a woman or couple when they should or shouldn’t start their family based on somebody else’s interpretation of Scripture. We need to find the common ground on abortion, reflecting our shared moral beliefs, not the beliefs that divide us. We are all united in the belief that we should do everything we can to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, teen pregnancies, and abortions, starting with instilling in our children both the values and the knowledge to make good choices. And we all agree that abortion shouldn’t be used as a form of birth control and shouldn’t be an option late in pregnancy except when the mother’s life or health is in danger. I could go on and talk about how misguided I think our currently policies are that deny access to birth control to women and teenagers in our inner cities, which does nothing but perpetuate the cycle of poverty, stop young people from getting an education and fulfilling their God-given potential, and make it more likely that they’ll have children before they’re ready to be good parents. But the main point I want to make is that in this country, we don’t force one person to live by another person’s faith. This should be a personal and moral issue, not a political one.

    This is a variation of one of the messages we tested, although it is considerably longer than those messages, which we kept to about 45 seconds. I revised it here to fit both the audience and the central narrative of Obama’s campaign (the theme of focusing on what unites and not what divides us).

    I’m not claiming that this is the best or only narrative Obama could have offered on abortion. Central to Obama’s appeal is his genuineness, and the only messages he should offer voters are those that fit his values and style. But this way of talking about abortion has several features that render it a strong, principled message. It isn’t hard to come away with the central theme, because it’s offered in both the opening sentence and at the end: That as long as we do not all share the same religious beliefs, the government has no business forcing one person to live by another person’s faith. It speaks to religious freedom and government intrusion, two themes usually associated with narratives on the right but that should be central to a progressive narrative on abortion. It recognizes, as Obama did in his actual answer, that this is a moral issue, and it builds on common ground, emphasizing themes like reducing teen pregnancies and instilling values that are shared by both the left and right and hence are likely to be compelling to people in the center. And it re-enfranchises males by reminding men that they have a stake in this, too: that although ultimately the decision to abort or not to abort resides with the mother, women usually make these decisions together with their husbands or boyfriends, and that a woman or couple, not the government, should make these kinds of intensely personal decisions.”

    Gee, I wonder if Westen is one of those partisans who are unable to process new information effectively?

  • Don,

    I’d think his basic assessment about the way people vote, generally speaking, is quite true. The argument about Democrats offering “rational” policies and Republicans offering “emotionally-based” appeals is false. I think it goes both ways and on different issues.

    But his general assessment that how the electorate feels at the moment usually does decide elections.

  • In any election Eric you are going to have hard core partisans who will not be moved from their position, and to this extent the analysis is correct, although we needed no “scientific” explanation for that. That bit of wisdom is, I suspect, about as old as elections. What is also as old as elections is that hard core partisans are usually not sufficient, certainly beyond the Congressional district level, to win a majority and that political parties have to hone their messages to attract a majority. How that is done, and how it shifts from election cycle to election cycle, has always been one of the more interesting aspects of politics for me.

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  • In any election Eric you are going to have hard core partisans who will not be moved from their position, and to this extent the analysis is correct, although we needed no “scientific” explanation for that. That bit of wisdom is, I suspect, about as old as elections. What is also as old as elections is that hard core partisans are usually not sufficient, certainly beyond the Congressional district level, to win a majority and that political parties have to hone their messages to attract a majority. How that is done, and how it shifts from election cycle to election cycle, has always been one of the more interesting aspects of politics for me.

    I get the sense that you are hostile to the study, but I’m not clear on why. Mr. Westen can make inaccurate and superficial political diagnoses; that does not mean he is inaccurately reporting the results of a study that describes partisans of both parties as bad at processing information running contrary to their ideologies. He is hardly the first person to notice this, and, as you’ve acknowledged, there are plenty of voters who will never be persuaded from one election to the next (probably most of the people in the study meet that description).

    I agree that studying the Independents who move back and forth and determine most elections is interesting; but that does not mean the study doesn’t tell us something useful about the rest of the population or about how people with deeply held commitments process new information. That, to me, is one of the most valid complaints about the MSM: when over 90% of the reporters are Democrats, there are bound to be striking differences in how information is processed and reported by these individuals, regardless of their intentions. The old joke about a Republican president seen walking across the Potomac River remains as true as ever: The Wall Street Journal headline will read: “Republican President Walks on Water”; The New York Times headline will read “Republican President Can’t Even Swim”. These types of studies highlight how flawed some of our thought processes can be; that’s a valuable thing to keep in mind for the sake of intellectual honesty.

  • I think my point was that this work may actually not actually show what it purports to show. The psychology may be what you point out. But the biology, at least as argued in the study, may be completely false. Again, fMRI data may one day be shown to be even more subject to flaws, including observer bias, that global warming data. 🙂

  • Again, fMRI data may one day be shown to be even more subject to flaws, including observer bias,

    Oh, right. As I said above, I concede that we may be wrong about the physical process in the brain (the mechanism); but I think the study is useful in describing behavior even if we’re wrong about that part. As it is, I still find the guesses about what’s happening in the brain interesting, even if incomplete at this point.

  • If one takes it as an argument from psychology and not neuroscience okay. But I have serious doubts about such studies ever being able to prove a link between our thoughts and neurobiological processes.

3 Responses to Set Me Free (From Ideologies) Part 1

  • Just a word of caution on the authority of the Compendium. Even the Compendium itself recognizes that some of what is in it does not partake of infallibility:

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

    Also Catholic Social teaching as you point out, does not fit any particular political position. Fortunately, CST also notes that it does not propose any particular political solutions. That is in fact left to the prudential judgment of the laity (yes it is up to the use of prudence – the practical application of moral norm to a specific problems.) Thus CST also notes that Catholics in good faith can disagree on particular solutions. To say otherwise is in fact to act contrary to Catholic Social Teaching itself.
    Now it seems you are not doing so but you do head near the shoals of Ultramontanism (as some other Catholic blogs do) by thinking that by reading the Compendium you will come up with a specific solutions. You won’t. Specific moral principles to apply – yes. Particular solutions that all are called to adhere to as good Catholics – no.
    I agree that one has to avoid ideologies that reduce the truth to sound bites. But there is a distinction between ideologies and ideas. Long, hard, cold thought out ideas that have internal coherence and which can provide specific political solutions. These ideas which form from the understanding of history, politics etc. have internal validity as expressions of human reason and if solidly based are a valid means of approaching problems of the world today. Even you admit to some with your FDR approach. This is okay.
    Its okay to have internally consistent ideas that propose solutions to political problems as long as one is open to new understanding as the study of history, politics, etc. develop. Even the Church (in one of JPII’s social encyclicals which is lost on me now) admits this much. That some of what is in CST is based on current understanding of history, economics etc. and can develop as these disciplines and as human understanding itself develops (see my first admonition above about differing degrees of authority.)
    So the bottom line is, I don’t have a problems with Conservative/Liberal etc. But let all come forth with solid, reasoned arguments and not the raw emotionalism that Charity in Truty decries. Let the best current understanding of social problems be presented with solid economic, historical etc. understanding. Then let Catholic laypersons with solid ideas (and not ideologies) make solid, prudential decisions.

  • Appreciate the insights Phillip- I suppose my goal is not to replace a brother/sister’s ideology with another one- but to get every serious Catholic who makes a big show of being a out and proud “conservative” or “liberal” and so forth- to think again- not to convert to another ideology, but to just leave off the self-labeling when saying you are Catholic- a Christian disciple- should suffice. I recall cringing at Sen. Brownback after receiving Father Pavone’s personal endorsement for President, going around saying that he was the “true Conservative”. Is that a good public witness for Christ, given that Christ is giving us a social doctrine that doesn’t lend itself easily to ideological adherences? Personally, I don’t see how an honest reading of all the social doctrine materials can lead me to voluntarily accept the imprisonment of any merely political ideology. I have tendencies toward the FDR Democratic party mold, but I recognize the fallibility of such to address all issues for all time- I won’t suggest that it wasn’t surprising that so much of the Catholic Church faithful were inclined to the FDR-Dem party – even in the Hierarchy- given the connections people were seeing between the social teachings and the political visions offered at the time. Of course times change, and appeals to FDR are not what I am much concerned with.

    I believe we are living in a bit of a new Barbarian Age- more subtle than before, very high-tech, but also very deadly to bodies and souls- I see the Barbarian movement in the establishment Left and Right- with abortion killing millions and a serious lack of global solidarity leading to unnecessary military conflicts and unjust economic situations. America is part of the problem and part of the solution- I’m focused on getting my nation to get out of the business of being part of the problem.

    As for the Compendium- I realize that differing levels of teaching authority are in play- but the fact that they are now given new circulation in the Compendium which is a concise rendering of the entire corpus of our social doctrine should be cause for new appreciation for all of it’s contents. At minimum what is in there must be taken deeply into our developing consciences- to say that only the most explicit detail of a particular principle of social teaching is worth reading would be a major error in prudential judgment. I figure if the Magisterium or Church leader puts something down on paper for our consumption, we should attempt to take time to consume it, let it work through our minds and imaginations, so that when we set about proposing specifics on major issues, or vision statements- we will have the benefit of all of the Church’s vast wisdom. I think that too many Catholics abuse the notion of prudential judgment to simply short-circuit the papal words that don’t mix well with their chosen ideological adherences- I’m not making a personal accusation to you Phillip or anyone in particular- but I am suspicious of everyone who clings too closely to something like what Brownback said “I am the true Conservative” I’m very suspicious of true believers in political ideologies.

  • Thanks for your reply. Will respond more fully after Easter. Quick reply is that I appreciate and look forward to your insights also.

Who Says No

Thursday, August 20, AD 2009

People at various points in the ideological spectrum have pointed out it’s a little odd to see conservatives objecting to the idea of the government deciding what medical procedures ought not to be covered, when they’re apparently okay with insurance companies deciding what procedures ought not be covered, or with people not being able to afford procedures because they lack good insurance. However, it strikes me this difference may actually make a fair amount of sense, both for some pragmatic reasons and some emotional/ideological ones.

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6 Responses to Who Says No

  • Mark Steyn:


    Right now, if I want a hip replacement, it’s between me and my doctor; the government does not have a seat at the table. The minute it does, my hip’s needs are subordinate to national hip policy, which in turn is subordinate to macro budgetary considerations.

    You’re accepting that the state has jurisdiction over your hip, and your knee, and your prostate and everything else. And once you accept that proposition the fellows who get to make the “ruling” are, ultimately, a death panel. Usually, they call it something nicer — literally, like Britain’s National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE).

    After my weekend column recounted the experience of a recent British visitor of mine, I received an e-mail from a gentleman in Glasgow who cannot get an x-ray for his back — because he has no sovereignty over his back. His back is merely part of the overall mass of Scottish backs, to which a government budget has been allocated, but alas one which does not run to x-rays.

    Government “panels” making “rulings” over your body: Acceptance of that concept is what counts.

  • After my weekend column recounted the experience of a recent British visitor of mine, I received an e-mail from a gentleman in Glasgow who cannot get an x-ray for his back — because he has no sovereignty over his back.

    See, I’m instinctively opposed to greater government involvement, but I can’t see it ever happening in America. X-rays aren’t that expensive, and he would always be able to buy an X-ray on his own dime. X-rays aren’t that expensive. It’s not a conservative principle to demand that government welfare programs pay for everything imaginable.

  • I’d say it is when the government program forecloses other options.

  • But I don’t see how a government program here could even conceivably prevent anybody from getting an X-ray on their own dime.

  • “People prefer making hard choices themselves — even if it’s not much of a “choice”. “”

    I hope this is true!

  • Bonus, if your insurance company sucks and you go buy something else, you don’t have to keep paying the old insurance company.

Lessons of the Financial Crisis

Wednesday, February 25, AD 2009

While I’m on the topic of narratives, Matthew Boudway at dotCommonweal has a post up entitled “They Cannot Fathom Their Failure”.* The post is based on a George Packer column, which basically makes the argument that conservatives “cannot fathom the failure of their philosophy” after the recent financial crisis, and that to deny they have been discredited is a form of self-delusion. This is a charge, I suppose, to be approached with trepidation; false consciousness is notoriously difficult to disprove. That said, it may be worthwhile to offer some thoughts in response. Here is an excerpt from the post:

…“[T]hey cannot fathom the failure of their philosophy.” Not “they will not fathom” it. They cannot. Sure, the response of many conservatives to the bailout and the stimulus package has been opportunistic and cynical. Many of them, though, simply cannot imagine what it would mean — what it now does mean — for the premises of their policy agenda, and indeed of their entire political philosophy, to have failed.  Not even the most spectacular failure can force anyone to learn a lesson he desperately wishes not to learn. Historical events are always complicated and contingent enough to admit of more than one interpretation, and the most plausible interpretation is often not the most attractive.

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7 Responses to Lessons of the Financial Crisis

  • 100% spot on, John Henry. Well said.

  • I have a feeling I will be repeating that Megal McArdle line until everyone is very tired of it, but it’s something always worth keeping in mind.

  • If the financial crisis somehow disproved conservative economic policies, then how does one explain the fact that the crisis is even worse in Europe and Japan than it is here?

  • Ah, but that’s only because the evil American conservatives victimized all the foreigners, right?


  • Well, one could reply that the financial crisis spread from the U.S., but as the links BA provided show, the leading economic indicators in other countries fell off prior to the U.S. crisis. And proponents of regulation and intervention in my view need to offer a compelling reason to believe that the political process is more effective at regulation than the financial markets. Granted, the track record of the latter has been less than stellar recently, but countries with higher levels of regulation generally have much lower economic growth and slower recoveries from economic downturns.

    At a minimum, if one is going to make the strong claim that a political or economic philosophy has been completely discredited, then one should provide evidence for the position.

  • Sarbanes-Oxley has had a chilling effect on risk-taking and investment, resulted in less firms going public

    Having done contract work for the past three years and doing work for the same company from time to time, I have seen two companies revert back to a private firm and a new one never going public. Sarbanes-Oxley was a major variable in their decisions to revert or remain private.

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