Sunday, December 8, 2013

"If you don’t believe Catholics about this, just read Ayn Rand"

Patrick J. Deneen at The American Conservative:
I think it is because of the left’s “narrative of disruption” that the right is panicked over Francis’s critiques of capitalism. These Vatican criticisms—suddenly salient in ways they weren’t when uttered by JPII and Benedict—need to be nipped in the bud before they do any damage. Of course, all along Catholic teaching has seen a strong tie between the radical individualism and selfishness at the heart of capitalism and liberationist sexual practices, understanding them to be premised on the same anthropological assumptions. (If you don’t believe Catholics about this, just read Ayn Rand.) While Hadley Arkes laments that Pope Francis did not speak at more length on sexual matters, if one reads his criticisms of the depredations of capitalism with care, one notices that he uses the same phrases with which he criticized abortion—namely, that abortion is but one manifestation of “a throw-away culture,” a phrase as well as in Evangelii Gaudium in his critique of capitalism (Section 53). If one attends carefully to Francis’s criticisms of the economy’s effects on the weak and helpless, one can’t help but perceive there also that he is speaking of the unborn as much as those who are “losers” in an economy that favors the strong. Like John Paul and Benedict before him, Francis discerns the continuity between a “throw-away” economy and a “throw-away” view of human life. He sees the deep underlying connection between an economy that highlights autonomy, infinite choice, loose connections, constant titillation, utilitarianism and hedonism, and a sexual culture that condones random hook-ups, abortion, divorce and the redefinition of marriage based on sentiment, and in which the weak—children, in this case, and those in the lower socio-economic scale who are suffering a complete devastation of the family—are an afterthought.

There are other parts of Deneen's essay with which I disagree, but I agree emphatically with this paragraph. People who think that it is high time that the Pope spoke out decisively on the evil traces in capitalism do have some quite valid points. This is of course established Catholic teaching, but the Holy Father is emphasizing it with particular clarity.

Readers of the blog know well that I detest socialism. Socialism is now and always, here and everywhere, a catastrophe. It is greed and envy annealed into an economic system. It serves only the indolent and powerful. It is without question the worst economic system, next to slavery, that man has devised.

Capitalism is undoubtedly the most effective generator of wealth man has ever devised. It has lifted billions of people out of poverty, and has saved billions of lives of people who otherwise would have perished of hunger and disease.

But that is not to say that capitalism is without sin. Capitalism facilitates a "throw-away culture", and too often dehumanizes man and treats his as a commodity, as a "consumer" or a "producer", rather than as a human being.

Capitalism is also a soporific. It dulls the senses, and encourages millions of people to live in cheap bling-luxury. It easily leads to the worship of things. It is a deep idolatry, more lethal than many other idolatries because of its remarkable effectiveness at creating wealth. It can be corrosive in a way that other idolatries, such as communism, cannot. Masses living under the socialist/communist boot are never convinced of their "bliss". The rot is always in front of socialism's chattel-slaves. People living under capitalism too often don't even know they're chattel, of a spiritual sort.

The answer to capitalism is not socialism. We must not replace overstuffed Madison-Avenue-hedonism and spiritual corruption with Detroit-style economic implosion and state corruption.

The answer to capitalism and to socialism-- the answer to all slavery-- is Christ.

We need a spiritual revival, and I think the Pope is right. Life issues are not entirely distinct from economic and cultural issues. One need look no further than Ayn Rand to see the link between unfettered worship of material acquisition and unfettered lust and disregard for innocent life. One can lust for possessions as easily as one lusts for mistresses. One can throw away an uneconomical employee just as callously as one throws away an unwanted wife or a child. Rand was a passionate advocate for capitalism and material acquisition, and a passionate advocate for contraception, abortion and eugenics.

I read Rand avidly in college-- I assure you that Howard Roark would be just as comfortable in a Planned Parenthood boardroom as he would be in a Wall Street boardroom. There is a worldview-- a growing worldview-- in which there is no cognitive dissonance between capitalism and anti-life views.

Although the Catholic Church explicitly condemns socialism, it does not condone unfettered capitalism either. The Church teaches solidarity and subsidiarity as the basis for a good society. We are called by God to help each other (solidarity), on as close a scale to the family and community as we can (subsidiarity).

Solidarity and subsidiarity are the anthesis of capitalism and socialism, and form the basis for a truly humane-- a truly Christian-- social system.

The devil-- or should I say the problem-- is in the details. The easiest response to dehumanized capitalism is impoverished socialism. But that is the wrong response. Worship of State is not the remedy for worship of Wealth. There is another way-- the Christian way-- but that way is spiritual and moral renewal, and does not lend itself well to political methods.

It won't be easy. It means changing hearts and souls. We need Him. 

43 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. The issue -- as always -- is liberty.

    Whatever ills The One True Bureaucracy imagines it sees in capitalism (*), in truth, those ills are not *in* capitalism, they are in human nature. And, thus, being the expression of sinfulness, these ills show up in *all* economies and economic systems. And, as a matter of fact, capitalism actually minimizes many of the worst of them.

    Furthermore, the "solutions" are even worse than the disease.

    "Rand was a passionate advocate for capitalism ... "

    I disagree. Certainly, she *claimed* to be that, but her claim was false.

    Capitalism fosters deeper levels, and indeed requires some minimal level to even get off the ground, of the very virtues she most hated -- you can't actually have capitalism in the sort of every-man-for-himself society she advocated: capitalism requires broad levels of mutual trust and cooperation, while at the same time harnessing for the common good the selfishness with which we all, even (I would say especially) "champions of the poor", are well endowed.

    Consider this complaint of yours: "Capitalism facilitates a "throw-away culture", and too often dehumanizes man and treats his as a commodity, as a "consumer" or a "producer", rather than as a human being. ... One can throw away an uneconomical employee just as callously as one throws away an unwanted wife or a child."

    First, as you well know, this problem is not limited to capitalism. Dehumanizing others is, in fact, a flaw in human nature. At the same time, under socialism, it's impossible for a person to be *other* than a "consumer" or a "producer" -- well, except maybe a "ruler", who is a "producer" of rules and "consumer" of the lives of others.

    Think about the vile phrase, "our people [or 'employees'] are our greatest resource" -- that phrase and mindset didn't originate in business, it originated in acedemia and government. It originated amongst those people who were already working to delegitimize capitalism and subject us all to socialism.

    "One can throw away an uneconomical employee just as callously ... "

    Why, exactly, is that a problem? Think about this, carefully. I assure you, anything you can come up with to explain why it's a problem needing correction, I can show you that it's not or that the solution is even worse.

    And the solution to this supposed problem is? Think about this! Think about what you're bitching about, think about the *meaning* of what you've said, think about the only possible "solution" to this alleged problem: which is to not (be allowed to) "throw away" an uneconomical employee. What does that *mean* in real life? What is the inevitable result? Who decides that an employer may or may not "throw away" an uneconomical employee, and at what level of uneconomical?

    Look, I know you don't want to know this, but the Pope is very wrong; and he (and the whole bureaucracy of The One True Bureaucracy) really is advocating socialism and a wholesale slavery-of-society. His war is against human liberty ... well, that and against reality.


    (*) And let's face the truth here: what The One True Bureaucracy really hates about capitalism is all that wealth being controlled by the wrong people

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  3. Any system we, as humans, engage in must balance both good and evil potentials. While socialist systems attempt a high level of control, they cannot prevent evil and thereby build a kind of citadel for to usurp.
    Capitalist systems, on the other hand, provide far more choice. They do not control nearly as much. While this can allow good to flourish, it can also allow for evil to rise in/by the same means.
    Neither system is a protection, it is merely a mechanism.
    I much prefer the capitalist system, because at least it allows for the contrasts. It is not a 'grey' system, and is much easier to overturn should it become corrupted by evil. It provides more freedom, and with that freedom comes the freedom to resist evil.
    That said, capitalism is not perfect.
    I do believe it could be improved upon greatly.
    Am I suggesting a synthesis? No.
    I am suggesting we need more balance.
    Where do we find that balance? In morality.
    I am sure I don't have to explain where I feel that morality originates.
    Sufficed to say that I think it is not something that comes from within an economic system...or even within this physical realm.

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    1. I am coming to see, in my old age, what the Church has taught for millennia about economics. There are more effective systems of organizing an economy, and less effective. Some generate a lot more wealth than others. Each has its spiritual traps.

      We need to respect what works, in practical ways, in the world.

      But without Christ, any system, even the most productive, will fail brutally.

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    2. "But without Christ, any system, even the most productive, will fail brutally. "
      I agree entirely.

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    3. Adm. G Boggs, Glenbeckistan NavyDecember 8, 2013 at 11:39 AM

      Yes, capitalism generates more wealth than socialism, or the Third Way.

      But as Ilion correctly points out, the key difference between capitalism and socialism is liberty: free people engaging in freely arranged relationships, with the fruits of one's own labor and time - and time is the ultimate measure of valuation that stands behind all others - deployed as one sees fit.

      With respect to the morality or immorality of capitalism vs socialism as economic organizing principles, individual liberty is always more moral than state coercion.

      The evil in capitalism lies in the hearts of men. We are fallen creatures, concupiscent, and require grace to function harmoniously.

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    4. Adm:

      [the key difference between capitalism and socialism is liberty: free people engaging in freely arranged relationships]

      True of course, in a political sense, but not true in another very important sense.

      The Christian definition of liberty has never been "license". A heroin addict in a society that permits heroin use is still not free in the way that really matters: he is still a slave to his addiction. And his slavery to his addiction may be far more destructive to him than any legal sanction. He may die of his addiction, whereas he may have been led to recovery by legal against him to prevent him from using heroin.

      Capitalism is certainly a form of liberty, in the definitional sense that it is the absence of state control of the means of production. And I passionately oppose state control of production.

      But we are not free if we are slave to our sins. And capitalism is a superb-- absolutely superb- way to enslave us in our sins. It could be argued that the billionaire capitalist purveyors of modern culture-- hedonistic garbage on TV, rap music, contraception and abortions around every corner-- have done more to destroy the lives of young black men than the vile racist Democrats of the Jim Crow South.

      Capitalism does not free us from sin, which is the deepest enslavement. Christ frees us.

      Capitalism that leaves Him out is just a shinier, prettier, more intoxicating evil than socialism. Perhaps, in the long run, capitalism is more dangerous, in the same way that historians have argued that Nazism, which was a kind of crony capitalist socialism, was more dangerous than communist socialism, because Nazism was more viable as an economic system and would not so quickly collapse of its own folly.

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    5. I should add that the Christian definition of freedom is freedom to attain the Good, which means God and His law.

      I compare the difference between capitalism and socialism to the difference between antibiotics and snake oil.

      Snake oil (socialism) is worthless for health, and a fraud.

      Antibiotics (capitalism) can be of great value for health, but must be used with knowledge, ethics and prudence. People can die from being given the wrong antibiotic, or the wrong dose, or an antibiotic to which they are allergic.

      Real health-- of a spiritual and human sort-- is pursued through Christ, who is neither a simple antibiotic nor snake oil.

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    6. This freedom sounds suspiciously like an offer one can't refuse. (You don't accept Me, you go to hell.)

      Hoo

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    7. Hell is a choice, Hoo. You want to hide from the presence of God? That's Hell. Here and hereafter.
      Some people love it. I choose to reject it.

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  4. What did the Pope write about capitalism? If he was wrong, why was he wrong?

    I read it a while back. Broadly, I agreed with it. From memory, he was basically criticising the inequality of capitalism.

    Inequality is a good thing - it provides motivation for people to work harder and obtain the items regarded as 'good'. But excessive inequality is bad, with polarisation of society into the very poor and very rich. And income and asset inequality is increasing, particularly in America, with hollowing out of the middle class.

    As a aside, Matt Taibbi (a journalist with 'Rolling Stone') has a new book coming out next month on inequality in America (I have it on pre-order, sight unseen, based on his previous book 'Griftopia', which was a brilliant dissection of the global financial crisis, Obamacare and the American political system - have a look at it, you'll enjoy it, since it has parts for both liberals and conservatives).

    If you're opposed to the state control of the means of production, then use the correct term for it - Marxism (or communism). Socialism is something different, and its opposite is individualism not capitalism.

    There are some things that governments do best and some things done best by private enterprise. And some things done best by a mixture of both. The balance in different areas varies and is a matter of argument, varying from country to country. Defence is obviously done best by the state. In many countries, education and health are both regarded as state issues, since having healthy educated workers to provide taxes is regarded as a necessity.

    Capitalism is obviously the best economic system. But there has to be some independent regulatory control, otherwise it will run rampant as it did in Britain and America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Morality resulting from Christianity won't stop this happening - it didn't when Christianity was much more pervasive that it is now.

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    1. I've never considered the "inequality" argument persuasive against capitalism. In fact, the argument repulses me.

      Economic well-being is determined not by my relative wealth, but by my actual wealth. If Bill Gates lost his fortune tomorrow, it would not make me a bit richer or better off. If I live in Sudan, where everyone's poor, I am not better off than if I live in a nice middle class home next door to Warren Buffet.

      Arguments about inequality smack strongly of envy, which is one of the seven deadly sins.

      My argument against (some aspects) of capitalism is an argument against the materialism it encourages. I utterly reject the inequality argument.

      I do believe that people with excess wealth have a moral obligation to help the poor, but that is not an issue restricted to capitalism. A well-off commissar in the Soviet Union had an obligation to help the poor.

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    2. Michael,

      But what about 'excessive inequality'? Which I think was the point Pope Francis was making.

      I personally don't have any problems with the rich (I'm a member of the 'rich' after all). But I do have a problem with the super-rich, who are able to isolate themselves from the problems of society by buying the very best education, healthcare, security (with gated communities and private security services), transport (with private jets and helicopter services), while at the same time having a inordinate influence on the political system.

      Personally, I don't envy the very rich. Who wants to be a billionaire? Being a millionaire is enough.

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    3. I've had another look at the Evangellii Gaudium. I still find that there's a lot there to agree with. Pope Francis is very refreshing. He manages to express a lot of things I agree with, albeit with (by definition almost) too much religious trapping.

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    4. Bach,

      I don't have a problem with self made wealthy, industrial people, either. We need them. They drive the economies. Personally, I would not waste my time pursing great wealth, but I would never object to decent compensation for services rendered. Call it sour grapes, if you like. But, I am quite sincere in this matter. I just want enough to be comfortable and to pass me through any sort of emergency. The proverbial rainy day. I have that. Millions? Don't need them. At least not at this level of inflation.

      The 'super rich' are a more tricky question. I cannot help but feel they should spread the wealth they possess. Willingly.
      In fact, I would go so far as to say when they don't for any significant period (especially during downturns) it is a self correcting problem. What I mean is they make a perfect scape goat for an angry mob.
      All the security and helipads in the world does not alter that reality. Such measures may postpone the correction and even allow some of the super rich to escape with some of their wealth, but the end result is the same. Just ask Louis' Swiss guards.
      I would suggest that the wise super rich use their wealth and influence for the betterment of those who are not. They lay a foundation that isolates them by means of good will.
      The unwise super rich revel in their worldly goods right until they find themselves on a scaffold or blindfolded and tied to a post. Even so, the unwise sometimes drag the wise down with them. In fact, they often drag down the wealthy with them, too. Especially the useless rich.
      Those who did/do not actually do anything productive.
      I guess you call them 'easy targets' for the mob mentality.

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  5. WHO gets to decide that that fellow (who is obviously a "greedy" SOB) over there has "excessive wealth" that he is obligated to "share" with me? And, who enforces this "obligation", and how?

    It *always* comes back to liberty -- are you for liberty or against it?

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    1. Ilion,

      Why don't you read the Evangellii Gaudium? Basically, it's society that eventually decides whether being materially rich is really worth striving for, is something that is to be envied. I particularly like the part in which the Pope notes that the modern technological society increases the number of moments of pleasure without doing anything about joy.

      I think experiences are better than possessions. The man with the most toys, still dies.

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    2. Envy is as much of a sin as greed.

      I believe it is God's will that each of share some of our excess wealth with our brothers who are in need. That sharing responsibility goes for the poor as well as the rich (the Widow's Mite is the relevant parable).

      Decisions to share are between the man and God. Government redistribution is generally speaking a bad idea, although I don't object to an absolute safety net, with safeguards against abuse.

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    3. Michael,

      So why don't you for once tell me what Pope Francis has got wrong? And why?

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    4. The Pope can't get anything wrong. He is guided by the Holy Spirit.

      Hoo

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    5. I don't know that he got anything wrong. Nothing I've heard him say is outside of mainstream Catholic teaching, as I understand it.

      I've not read Evangelii Gaudium (this may inspire me to do it), but the excerpts in the press seem to be mainstream Catholic moral teaching. The Pope stresses the evils of unfettered capitalism, which are quite real, rather than stressing the evils of socialism, which are also quite real and have been discussed many times by other popes and which remains official Catholic teaching.

      Something I've discovered about the Church in my decade as a Catholic is that there are a variety of perspectives on secular issues within the Church. I have friends who are devout Catholics who are quite liberal politically-- they tend to be in the Peace and Justice lay groups in the parish. Conservatives like me tend to be in the Respect Life groups.

      WIthin the Church, I listen carefully to other faithful Catholics, the Pope especially. They are not always right about political issues, nor am I.

      I have no problem with Pope Francis' criticisms of capitalism. He is basically right, I think. It's not a matter of faith or morals, so his teaching is not considered infallible anyway.

      I probably would have expressed it a bit different than the way he has, but I'm not Pope (maybe next time).

      So I listen to what he has to say, respectfully and prayerfully, and I learn.

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    6. I just read Evangelii Gaudium, and I don't really disagree with anything. Again, I may have expressed things somewhat differently, but the Holy Father didn't ask my advice. It is a beautiful document, with much truth.

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    7. [The Pope can't get anything wrong. He is guided by the Holy Spirit.]

      He can be wrong about any number of things. Many popes have been wrong, and all have been sinners.

      Infallibility applies only to papal teachings on faith and morals, issued by the Pope ex-cathedra. In modern times, only papal declaration of the Immaculate Conception and the Bodily Assumption of Mary are explicitly teachings that are infallible.

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    8. What about this part? The Pope effectively calls for a redistribution of wealth by state.

      56. While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.

      Hoo

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    9. Hoo:

      Obviously it is appropriate for the state to exert some kind of control. Even "pure" capitalism is not possible without a legal arena in which to operate, which presupposes some state control.

      The control needs to be limited to that which is necessary for subsidiarity and solidarity (the cornerstones of Catholic social teaching). "Redistribution of wealth" is a vague term, not used by the Pope. He certainly does not advocate simple state theft of money earned by some to be given to others. He's not an economist and he's not proposing a specific economic policy, but I think that he means that economies should be organized in such a way that financial manipulation as a way of gaining wealth is minimized, and that efforts are made to ensure a living wage for working people, and to ensure that jobs are available and that basic services (healthcare, etc) are available to all.

      Basic Catholic stuff.

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    10. Michael,

      Why don't you stop misusing words. The opposite of capitalism is Marxism. The opposite of socialism is individualism. The early church was socialist because it was based (possibly still is) on a sense of community, not because it had a policy of redistribution of wealth.

      Western society is increasingly individualistic. It's almost certainly a bad thing.

      What do you make of Hoo's extract?

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    11. Your lexicon is idiosyncratic.

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    12. "Distribution of wealth" is the term he uses. There is a whole part named "The economy and the distribution of income."

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

      Hoo

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    13. Michael,

      'Your lexicon is idiosyncratic'. As idiosyncratic as your definition of 'imaginary' as meaning 'the process by which images are formed in the mind, which may be true or false'?

      My definition of 'socialism' is the one used by the German writer Sebastian Haffner in 'Anmerkungen zu Hitler' (his use of the word isn't unusual) when he noted that National Socialism was socialist, in that it did away with the individual as being important in the state. Organisation of the individual was paramount with bodies such as the Hitler Youth. The Communists in East Germany just continued the tradition, while adding Marxism (and ironically calling their state 'Democratic').

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    14. "Better distribution of income" is not "re-distribution of wealth".

      Re-distribution of wealth is generally understood to be a government transfer program, in which productive people are taxed to fund give-away government programs (to people who will become dependable voters for the party that implements the program). Another word for is is a "shakedown".

      "Better distribution of income" refers to an economic system that provides plentiful good jobs by which a wage-earner can comfortably support his family.

      Ya know, the kind of jobs Reagan created, and the kind of jobs Obama hasn't created.

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    15. Volcker, Fed Chairman under Reagan, focused more on fighting inflation than job creation. So the unemployment rate first kept going up, exceeding 10 percent. It got down to 5 percent before going back to 7.5 under Bush Sr. The lowest unemployment in the recent US history was during the Clinton administration.

      As to distribution vs. redistribution, these are semantic differences. The Pope argues for lowering the inequality of income distribution. The US tops the list among the developed countries.

      Hoo

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    16. mregnorDecember 8, 2013 at 8:42 PM...I've not read Evangelii Gaudium...
      mregnorDecember 8, 2013 at 8:44 PM...I just read Evangelii Gaudium,...

      You read an 84 page document in two minutes?

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    17. When you're Egnor, you don't need to read something with care when you've made up your mind beforehand.

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    18. Anon:

      I began reading it after I composed most of my comment, and before I hit "publish".

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  6. Fiend, Hoo

    As if there was no middle ground. Australia is considered as a "mixed economy". Google its characteristics.

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    1. An example of an economic system of explicitly Catholic flavor is Distributionism (a good Wiki article).

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  7. From wiki: Authors John W. Houck and Oliver F. Williams of the University of Notre Dame have argued that Catholic social teaching naturally leads to a mixed economy in terms of policy. They referred back to Pope Paul VI's statement that government "should supply help to the members of the social body, but may never destroy or absorb them". They wrote that a socially just mixed economy involves labor, management, and the state working together through a pluralistic system that distributes economic power widely

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  8. Observer: "From wiki: Authors John W. Houck and Oliver F. Williams of the University of Notre Dame have argued that Catholic social teaching naturally leads to a mixed economy in terms of policy. They referred back to Pope Paul VI's statement that government "should supply help to the members of the social body, but may never destroy or absorb them". They wrote that a socially just mixed economy involves labor, management, and the state working together through a pluralistic system that distributes economic power widely"

    This is technically the variant of leftism/socialism called 'fascism' -- and the *only* way to get it to "work"... "work", that is, until it all comes crashing down in a (generally) bloody mess, as it inevitably will -- is for "the government" (menaing the few individuals who control "the government") to arrogate to itself totalitarian dictatorial powers.

    Meanwhile, a free-market economy -- capitalism -- is, by its very nature, "a pluralistic system that distributes economic power widely"; and everyone and his bishop is doing all they can to sabotage the very thing they say they want to foster.

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  9. M.Egnor: "An example of an economic system of explicitly Catholic flavor is Distributionism (a good Wiki article)."

    ... which is just socialism (generally of the fascism variety) that refuses to admit that it is socialism, that likes to (falsely) proclaim that it is opposed to socialism, combined with a romanticism-cum-primitivism that refuses to acknowledge that the human race cannot feed and clothe itself, much less house and transport itself, when hobbled by an economy limited to "craftsmanship" and powered by muscle -- we can't *all* grow our own food while wearing our individually hand-made peasant blouses, which were lovingly hand-crafted just for us of lovingly hand-woven muslin made of lovingly hand-spun threads made of lovingly hand-separated fibers processed from lovingly hand-grown cotton plants, lovingly transported by horse-drawn drays. Only those who are already so rich that they can't imagine what else to do with the wealth can afford to waste wealth (which is, after all, sin) pretending to that level of primitive poverty; the rest of us are forced to make do with mass-produced food and goods and services, mass-transported by trains and trucks and ships.

    On one way of looking at it, the "Catholic" critique of a modern free-market mass economy, that is, of capitalism and the real-world results of capitalism, really boils down to an infantile pique -- waaaaa! it's no fair, No Fair! that *I* am not so special that several score of other persons do not willingly live lives of grinding physical poverty so that *I* can have only individually hand-made goods and in the quantity I want.

    The "Catholic" critics of the modern free-market mass economy -- just like the critics of all the other socialistic bents -- are bent-out-of-shape because the only way to fully plug into that mass-economy is to become inter-dependent with thousands and even millions of other persons whom one doesn't even know, and to do so by voluntarily pleasing/serving others as the means to serve oneself , rather than because one *ought* to do this or that.

    Now, of course, socialists are always *demanding* an increase of inter-dependency -- just not the sort engendered by capitalism. The inter-dependency engendered by capitalism is voluntary, dynamic, and decentralized (or "bottom up"); every one of which properties piss off socialists no end, for each is a manifestation of individual liberty and volunteering, rather than of some central command-and-control compulsion.

    It *always* comes down to liberty -- are you for it or against it?

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  10. John Jay Ray (who happens to style himself an 'atheist') More on Pope Francis -- "I have to conclude that Evangelii gaudium is a failure as a policy document. It has been extensively misunderstood. As I think I showed yesterday, a careful reading of it favours neither Left nor Right in politics. Francis identifies what he sees as a raft of social problems and many of those problems are ones that Leftists dine out on. But he does not call for political action to remedy those problems . He recommends prayer and personal compassion as the response to such problems.

    But just about nobody seems to have noticed that. The Left think he has come down firmly on their side and conservatives see him as pro-Left too. See for instance here for a conservative critique.

    The problem as I see it is that people on both sides of politics in the Western world see a statement of social grievances as a call for political action. So Francis has misjudged his audience. He is politically naive: Rather surprising in a Jesuit.

    Past Popes in their encyclicals have taken care to remain in the middle ground of politics. John Paul II's encyclical
    Centesimus annus is a good example of that. Fortunately, Evangelii gaudium is an informal document so is not binding in any way. So Francis should move soon to issue an encyclical which cancels out the naive political views that are expressed in Evangelii gaudium. He will lose a lot of conservative Catholics otherwise. And Leftists are not conspicuous as churchgoers. His good intentions may be bad for his church. Pius XII came quite unfairly to be called "Hitler's Pope". Will Francis come to be known as "Stalin's Pope"? -- JR"

    I would go farther than ascribing to Francis simple naivety -- for, how can this man, with his years, *not* know that for leftists, *all* problems and "problems" are but excuses for increasing the compulsive power of government to the detriment of human liberty?

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    1. Francis is a very savvy guy. He's been battling (mostly leftists) in Argentina for most of his life. He took no nonsense from the liberation theologists who were strong in the Jesuit order in Argentina, and he earned the absolute hatred of the leftist/socialist Argentine governments.

      He is talking to the spiritual pitfalls of capitalism, which are very real and very dangerous, precisely because of capitalism's success in creating wealth.

      The view that we should work for an economic system that empowers the poor and the middle class-- not the "adolescent progressivism" that Francis condemns but a genuine Christian approach to prosperity-- is bedrock Christian/Catholic social teaching.

      I did not defend distributionism as a finished economic system. It seems quaint and unworkable to us now, although I think it was more plausible to early 20th century Europeans.

      I do emphatically endorse solidarity and subsidiarity as the Catholic basis for social policy. A system that is much more capitalist than socialist is I think the best way to to get there.

      But we must not be deceived to think that wealth accumulation is what Christ wants for us as individuals. The prosperity gospel is a gruesome heresy.

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    2. As an atheist, I actually find Pope Francis refreshing with his eschewing of the 'pomp and circumstance' of previous popes, going to extent of living in modest quarters in the Vatican and using a second hand car. And even personally phoning his newsagent in Buenos Aires after being elected pope to inform him that unfortunately he had to cancel his newspaper subscription.

      I read it as advocating individual choices, not state mandated commands. The choices of individuals eventually results what communities regard as worth having. Western economies are just too materialistic, unsustainably so, with the obsession with the accumulation of 'stuff' and money.

      The man with the most toys, still dies.

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