The Stupid Pope

9 07 2009

Yesterday, I read in the New York Times that the Vatican had just released a new encyclical, written by Pope Benedict XVI. The article’s title, Pope Urges Forming New World Economic Order to Work for the ‘Common Good’ got my attention. The term “common good” bothers me, as does “New World Economic Order.” I know people listen to Pope’s, so I had to see what he’s trying to say.

Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday called for a radical rethinking of the global economy, criticizing a growing divide between rich and poor and urging the establishment of a “true world political authority” to oversee the economy and work for the “common good.”

What crap. He’s calling for a sort of one-world government. I must wonder if he truly believes that a central authority can somehow improve the world economy or if he just pretends to think that way. Religious leaders have this magical authority to make economic policy recommendations without even implying that they have any understanding of economic theory.

In the encyclical, Benedict wrote that “financiers must rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity, so as not to abuse the sophisticated instruments which can serve to betray the interests of savers.”

I don’t expect an explanation of this genuinely ethical foundation, a term that can be interpreted in too many ways. I take this as a defense of modern state-empowered banking in general, fractional reserve lending and such.

In many ways, the document is a puzzling cross between an anti-globalization tract and a government white paper, another signal that the Vatican does not comfortably fit into traditional political categories of right and left.

“There are paragraphs that sound like Ayn Rand, next to paragraphs that sound like ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’ That’s quite intentional,” Vincent J. Miller, a theologian at the University of Dayton, a Catholic institution in Ohio, said by telephone.

“He’ll wax poetically about the virtuous capitalist, but then he’ll give you this very clear analysis of the ways in which global capital and the shareholder system cause managers to focus on short-term good at the expense of the community, of workers, of the environment.”

Indeed, sometimes Benedict sounds like an old-school European socialist, lamenting the decline of the social welfare state and praising the “importance” of labor unions to protect workers. Without stable work, he noted, people lose hope and tend not to get married and have children.

But he also wrote, “The so-called outsourcing of production can weaken the company’s sense of responsibility towards the stakeholders — namely the workers, the suppliers, the consumers, the natural environment and broader society — in favor of the shareholders.” And he argued that it was “erroneous to hold that the market economy has an inbuilt need for a quota of poverty and underdevelopment in order to function at its best.”

Oh, these seeming contradictions are so puzzling. He basically is an old-school socialist, a state-socialist – looking to the power of the state to solve all our problems. Actually, his thoughts resemble those of the angry centrist. Angry centrists decry the division between the left and right and seek a middle-ground where we can all get what we want, and we can all get along. They’re fools, ideologically bankrupt and politically illiterate. The whole point of politics is for some people to get something at the expense of other people. That’s what I really think this guy is.

The only thing I see in his writing that resembles Ayn Rand is that he’s long-winded. He goes on and on about nothing and the New York Times seems to have done a pretty good job of picking out the few noteworthy things in 144 pages of religious fluff.

Benedict also called for a reform of the United Nations so there could be a unified “global political body” that allowed the less powerful of the earth to have a voice, and he called on rich nations to help less fortunate ones.

“In the search for solutions to the current economic crisis, development aid for poor countries must be considered a valid means of creating wealth for all,” he wrote.

I can’t imagine how the UN is supposed to give anyone a voice. The internet gives everyone who can access it a voice. Is the UN going to hook everyone up to the internet I suspect he means something else. Development aid is a wealth tranfer; it does not create any wealth at all, and transaction costs ensure that the net effect is less that zero.

John Sniegocki, a professor of Christian ethics at Xavier University in Cincinnati, said one of the most controversial elements of the encyclical, at least for some Americans, would be the call for international institutions to play a role in regulating the economy.

[…]

Michael Novak, a philosopher and theologian at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, a conservative research organization, said he thought that the encyclical was stronger on principles than policy suggestions. He said he was particularly uncomfortable with the idea of a strong international institution to regulate the global economy.

“I like limited government. I would much prefer to have many limited governments than one overriding authority,” Mr. Novak said by telephone.

I’m uncomfortable with that too, though I’d prefer 10,000 city-states. It’s sad to me that because this man wears a big goofy hat, people automatically give weight to his opinions on matters in which he only demonstrates ignorance. I wonder if he’s ever heard of the socialist calculations debate or if he’s ever noticed that the most powerful centralized governments of the 20-th century are responsible for the great majority of violent death and destruction.

I’ve taken a look at the encyclical itself. It’s too long and far too boring to read in its entirety, but if you’re sufficiently awake and interested you could skim through it. In the introduction there’s a lot of fluff about love, Jesus, truth, and charity. It seems largely meaningless until…

Every Christian is called to practise this charity, in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the pólis. This is the institutional path — we might also call it the political path — of charity, no less excellent and effective than the kind of charity which encounters the neighbour directly, outside the institutional mediation of the pólis.

The Pope is telling us that political “charity” is just as wonderful as actual private charity. Christians are being told not merely that it’s okay to give away other people’s wealth, but that they ought to do this. I do not know how this can square up with the Seventh Commandment (Catholic).

I may add more latter…

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One response

12 07 2009
anamericanidiot

He isn’t “calling for a sort of one-world government,” he IS calling for a one-world government. The Article you are referring to may say economic but if that is all the Pope is calling for it did not read that way to me. I read the letter and wrote my own review of it. You can read my impressions but more importantly there is a link in the essay to the actual letter. If you have a couple hours read the letter, it is both enlightening and troubling.

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