Economics

The root of all evil

The FT blog entry dealing with the Pope’s recent apostolic exhortation is, as we might expect, a somewhat tendentious selection, archly culled from the proclamation. But, in the spirit in which it is there presented, let us deal with a few of the passages excerpted.


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…

No, such gross inequalities arise only due to state intervention (not least in the imposition of flawed systems of state money), from state-granted legal privilege, and through the state-exercised, post hoc largesse which is routinely showered upon its favoured lackeys whenever they make one of their frequent gross errors of judgement or succumb to their all too typical and wholly execrable violations of ethics.

Let us here be clear, whatever the pope may think, tax minimisation is not one of the latter. A man’s honestly come-by income is his, not his petty overlord’s, to dispose of and all non-violent efforts he makes to reduce the depredations being visited upon that income are just. The problem with this contention is that the ability to do so not extend equally to all. Thus, the larger fish – flaunting their state-granted immunities – swim free while the smaller fry – who might one day grow to be their competitors were they not so viciously oppressed – are caught in the net and squeezed all the more mercilessly in order to make up a budgetary shortfall (which itself only seems so pressing because of the insatiable lust for power of their rulers).

Jesus may have made a point of cultivating the company of publicans – i.e., of tax farmers – as a way of showing up the self-righteousness of the Pharisees, but He was surely not suggesting that it was their office that was the highest of all callings in that it assisted the voracious state in its attempt at ensuring ‘a better distribution of income’ – better distributed to its functionaries and supporters for the most part, that is.


 

…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

Does anyone in their right mind really think the market makes the rules? If so, then why are we plagued with a cradle-to-grave, self-perpetuating, largely self-selecting claque of political parasites and bureaucratic busybodies whose path up the greasy pole to view ‘all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them’ consists of a never-ending striving to think up new rules, regulations, prescriptions and prohibitions to impose upon the rest of us, the better to prove the  political ‘vision’ – and hence fitness for high office – of their promulgators?

Furthermore, it strikes one as the bitterest of ironies that in this flight of rhetoric the Holy Father has seemingly chosen to confound the utterly notional ‘tyranny’ of fair dealing and contractual fulfilment with the innumerable, very real horrors inflicted upon his flock by that most bestial of institutions, the state, throughout its long, bloody history.

In a true free market – however much of an abstraction that concept may, alas, remain – self enrichment can only come about as the reward for a meritorious success in best satisfying the material needs of others. This is hardly a ‘tyranny’. Indeed, if anyone is subject to such a binding constraint, it is the profit-seeking entrepreneur since, in such a world, he is a man who earns his daily bread by making sure others receive theirs at the lowest cost, in the highest abundance, on the most regular basis, according to the shortest delay, and comprised of the greatest quality. If he does not do so as a matter of basic business principle, he risks soon going hungry himself.

Moreover, the ‘worship of the ancient golden calf’ which is held up as so abhorrent a practice has always been something most pitilessly enforced by the state, not the market. Leviathan – in order to shore up the pillars of its earthly dominion – has typically either perverted true faith into a religion of diabolical service to own glorification, or else has set itself up as the secular deity, one to be defied only at the price of life, liberty, and property. It is therefore not the ‘idolatry of money’ wherein we meet the most awful, crushing, ‘inhuman dictatorships’, but in societies which pretend to despise honest trade and which prey upon fruitful commerce.


We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market… [and when, pray tell us, did we ever get a chance fully to do that?]

Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes… [etc., etc.]

Perhaps we might encourage His Holiness to find time among his regular schedule of devotions to read a little Hayek and perhaps some Buchanan, for here he has succumbed to the fallacy of the pretence of knowledge and he is also gathering up tares, not wheat, by failing to take note of the teachings of  ‘public choice’ theory. Planning – for that is what this passage is advocating –  is the scourge which drove us into this mess in the first place. The very ‘decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes’ being implemented by the idiot savants and the hubristic meddlers who populate the ranks of the influential are what keep us mired within that mess and so prolong the suffering of one and all, far beyond their due measure and far in advance of their allotted span.


Our new Pope is doubtless a man of unimpeachable piety and great personal humility, but what the chosen paragraphs appear to demonstrate is that the concept of his infallibility is rightly reserved for his considered pronouncements on matters of doctrine, not economics or even politics. Otherwise, instead of echoing the sentiments of such a leading light of humanitarianism as Che Guevara – whose Stalinist ramblings also dwelt on the ‘alienation’ suffered by the masses and who likened the market economy uncomprehendingly as a ‘contest among wolves’ – he would surely acknowledge that, for all the inevitable human failings of the individuals who make up the class, entrepreneurs routinely do, have always done, and always will do more good for more people in more instances than ever have or ever will the commissars, crony plutocrats, and corrupted vote-mongers from whom the Alphaville redactor (if not necessarily the Pope himself) finds them drearily indistinguishable or else beside whom she deems them decidedly less commendable.

The FT post itself concluded with fashionably cheap jibe en passant at the Tea Party – which it no doubt sees as a howling mob of ape-knuckled reactionaries stubbornly resisting all that uplifting soixante-huitard progressiveness which some of its authors and the rest of the more enlightened so joyously embrace. This itself reveals much about the ideological intent behind the careful culling of the Pope’s words, as does the breathless worship of Keynes and Krugman which has become FT Alphaville’s default setting.

Yet there are one or two phrases in the Apostolic which could be cited to support a completely opposite view of the world, as for example, when the Pope says:

…Today’s economic mechanisms promote inordinate consumption, yet it is evident that unbridled consumerism combined with inequality proves doubly damaging to the social fabric…

Agreed. But on the FT blog the talk is usually a wearisome rehearsal of ‘paradoxes of thrift’, ‘liquidity traps’, and of the need for programmes of economic ‘stimulus’ which are all aimed at fostering that two-masses-for-the dead, pyramid-building Uber-consumption of the kind which can only spawn what are ultimately unsustainable levels of ‘…Debt and the accumulation of interest [which] also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power…’ – that latter a cry not to resort to any further inflationism, perhaps; not to mention a suggestion that we might do well to reduce, not inexorably increase, indebtedness, pace the Bloomsbury Sage and his brutish New York Times enforcer?

And as for the inherent collectivism of much of the commentary here, well, there is always this to consider:

…all this becomes even more exasperating for the marginalized in the light of the widespread and deeply rooted corruption found in many countries – in their governments, businesses and institutions – whatever the political ideology of their leaders.

Here, Pope Francis – if with perhaps not the greatest degree of consistency, given what he has argued earlier in his address – is categorically expressing his deep disapproval of those same enlightened, disinterested, Platonic philosopher-kings to whose tender judgement we are often told in the FT we should commit our care, lest the evils of the market come upon us as a wolf upon the fold.

Adding to this, in a different section, the pontiff argues that,

…the principal author, the historic subject of this process [of building a fair society], is the people as a whole and their culture, and not a single class, minority, group or elite. We do not need plans drawn up by a few for the few, or an enlightened or outspoken minority which claims to speak for everyone. It is about agreeing to live together, a social and cultural pact…

Not much room there for that sordid Republic of Men, not Laws for which we are enjoined to abandon that fructifying “social and cultural pact” which is the market.

Francis goes on:

…it is the responsibility of the State to safeguard and promote the common good of society.  Based on the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, and fully committed to political dialogue and consensus building, it plays a fundamental role, one which cannot be delegated, in working for the integral development of all. This role, at present, calls for profound social humility…

Here, ultimately, is the root of all our woes. Not the “absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation”, but the fact that none of those who hold sway over us – neither the unelected technocrats like Mario Draghi and Janet Yellen, the heads of our increasingly arbitrary governments – whether elective, theocratic, single-party socialistic, or monarchic in flavour – the sinister spymasters they have empowered to snoop and pry and curtain-twitch at our every thought and deed, nor the pettifogging officials they have let loose to harry us about our daily round – not one of them display much in the way of ‘social humility’, profound or otherwise.

Perhaps that’s because most of these worthies have never had to operate within the one institution most likely to inculcate such a virtue; the one in which the consumer – and not the producer – is sovereign; the one where the customer – not the merchant – is always right.

I refer, of course, to the free, unhampered market – the bringer of bounty and promoter of peace, the forum of fraternity and congress of co-operation where man meets with man in order to trade, mine for yours, to the mutual benefit of both.

16 comments to The root of all evil

  • waramess

    Oh dear, are there still people who believe all this religous nonsense?

    Who really cares what the pope thinks? Who really cares about what waramess thinks? They should number about the same and hardly if ever warrant a mention.

    We are what we are and we cause all the misery on this earth through both our actions anf our inactions.

    You are of course right: leave the markets to deal with things in a way that is hampered only by a robustly competitive one that delivers what is on the tin, then sit back and watch the telly, or something

  • john in cheshire

    waramess
    December 2nd, 2013 at 18:46 · Reply

    Oh dear, are there still people who believe all this religous nonsense?

    Yes there are. And I tell you and everyone else who doubts – your path to salvation is only – that is only – through Jesus the Christ. Now, you can deny that. You can ridicule me for telling you. But firstly, I shan’t harm you for what you might say and secondly, don’t ever say you weren’t told, when the day of judgement comes to you as it will for all of us. I just pray that I don’t end up spending eternity with unbelievers; that would be punishment for my sins.

    • So I should enslave myself to something no one has ever seen, you catch touch or speak with and if I do my only reward will be after I die? Did it occur to you that I can’t go to heaven or hell as I dont believe in either? I can get a much better deal in this life by satisfying the wants of others. Ayn Rand had some of the best views of religion and when her husband died was ver upset. When questioned by the interviewer if she believed he had gone to heaven she replied, “..No, or I would immediately kill myself to be with him..!”

  • Paul Marks Paul Marks

    I am told that the Pope’s (or Bishop of Rome’s – depending on one’s point of view) comments were mistranslated – the English language translation service of the Vatican has been dominated by leftists for many years.

    However, the Roman Catholic Church has long been broadly in sympathy with “Social Justice” policies – for example Archbishop Dolan of New York recently said that the Catholic Church wanted to act as “cheer leaders” in support of Obamacare, but had been pushed away by the contraception mandate.

    Does it not occur to this gentleman that is undignified for a Church to act as a “cheer leader” for government policy? And why is it the responsibility of government to ensure that people get various goods and services?

    This policy (government-for-the-poor) has been a total mess in Latin America – especially for the poor. And in much of Europe and the United States it is leading to bankruptcy – mass unemployment and eventual collapse (this will hurt the poor most of all).

    The basic principle of the Christian virtue of charity is that it is voluntary (to talk of compulsory charity is like talking of “dry liquid”) As Thomas Aquinas pointed out reason is not the enemy of religion – reason is the gift of God. Bad philosophy (such as confusing charity and justice – as “Social Justice” does) is not (can not be) good theology.

    By the way I am aware of how far back this error goes – the Marxist Liberation Theology people have brought back a very old error.

    In the 12th century the “Decretum” was published. It is not really a single work – it is a grab bag of documents going back into the Dark Ages (including much stuff that was meant for isolated monastic communities). However, it was published as if it could be applied to the world as a whole – not just to some isolated monastic community. And it includes words such as the following…..

    “A man who keeps more for himself than he needs is guilty of theft”.

    “The use of all things that are in the world ought to be common to all”.

    “No one may all his own what is common, of which if he takes more than he needs, it is obtained by violence…… The bread that you hold back belongs to the needy, the clothes that you store away belong to the naked”.

    All taken from page 70 of Brian Tierney’s “The Idea of Natural Rights”.

    Now the above quotations may make sense as rules for an isolated monastic community in the Dark Ages – but they make no sense as a code of law for 12th century Europe (or as a code of law for the wider society in any century).

    They totally mangle charity and justice (treating lack of charity as theft) and are mad – as mad as the mist and snow.

    Not surprisingly the Roman Catholic Church did NOT try and apply these absurdities as laws in society (such quotations would have been laughed out of any Church Court).

    “The accused is guilty of theft – because he has two shirts and there is a person somewhere in the world without a shirt”.

    That is not a court of law – that would be insanity.

    My point is that this madness has always been there – whispering in the dark.

    The collectivist “Social Gospel” and “Liberation Theology” crowd have just brought it out.

  • Paul Marks Paul Marks

    Short version – “positive rights”, “compulsory charity”, “social justice” make no sense.

    They make no more sense in theology than they do in the philosophy of law (jurisprudence).

    Saying that one may use violence to enforce compulsory charity makes no sense – and to call it a theological statement does not change that.

    The Thomas Aquinas point – irrational thinking is not (can not be) good theology, as reason is the gift of God and reason and faith (if both are rightly understood) can not be in conflict.

  • St. Paul used this line of argument, “Women, submit to your husbands…” before excoriating husbands. The Pope knows well the regulated own the regulators, hence his point that biz outside of law is lawless. He is describing the banks and pharmaceutical companies. He is knocking his own regulators around.

    And don’t blame the Vatican for Obamacare, you cannot become a bishop in USA without the cumulative permission of the government. What is de jure in Germany is de facto in USA. American bishops are bought and paid for and have the integrity to stay bought, as opposed to those rascally politicians. Guess why the Vatican keeps telling American pew Catholics they are on their own.

    And if you want a Sean Corrigan-grade critique of the world from the Vatican, it is the very Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, $20 on Amazon, a jaw-dropping revelation. Starkly at odds from what you would expect, given the press the Vatican gets. If you enjoy having your biases confounded, read it.

    John

  • Paul Marks Paul Marks

    “the regulated own the regulators”

    Tell that to J.P. Morgan Chase.

    First the government told them to buy certain enterprises.

    Then the government declares that these enterprises (which it asked J.P. Morgan Chase to save) were guilty of bad practice – although no illegality has been shown.

    And it now demands 13 BILLION Dollars from J.P. Morgan Chase.

    And the banking industry is CLOSEST to the government – did not save them from Dodd-Frank.

    As for MANUFACTURING (much further from government than banking is) – ever heard of the EPA and so on?

    Are they owned by those they regulate? The enterprises they are busy trying to destroy.

    On the point of Catholic Bishops….

    The Vatican asked the American government (back when George Washington was President) whether it needed permission in the appointment of Bishops – the Americans said no.

    Bishops and so on are appointed without any permission.

    I am not a Roman Catholic – but the idea that American Bishops (weak though they are) are “bought and paid for” is offensive.

    No doubt they could stand for Roman Catholic doctrine much better than they do – but I have no doubt that people such as Archbiship Dolan are sincere in their own weak way.

    The Vatican appoints people – if they are the wrong people it is the fault of the Vatican.

    As for a more friendly interpretation of Catholic doctrine than I have presented.

    See the works of Thomas Woods.

    • No, Morgan Chase told the government to change regulations, so they could visit what wickedness we have seen, and then got a bailout when it went bad. The 13 billion fine is coming out of saver’s pocket’s, compliments of the low interest rates. Dodd Frank has accelerated the big get bigger and the destruction of the small competitors.

      And the EPA destroys competitors of the ones who control the regulators. I guess you have to live here to see it.

      Also, American bishops forward the names to the Vatican they want appointed as bishops. The Vatican is hard pressed to say no, just as in 1 Samuel 8 God was hard pressed to say no, eventually going along with the demands for what is harmful.

      One can be sincere and be bought and paid for, and staying bought and paid for rather confirms this. We had a network of Catholic hospitals, Universities and schools that was the envy of the world, but the bishops sold it all down the river for welfare transfer payments. Now the regulators, owned by big medicine, say they cannot go back. And not a peep regarding USA’s criminal wars (prudential judgment and all that.)

      The Catholic Church in USA is largely American, less Catholic. When Henry took the Catholic Church in England Anglican, 59 of 60 bishops sided with Hank. Think USA bishops are better men than that?

      I think if you read Frances you’ll find what he says is far more damning to USA bishops than what I am saying. They are going to have a terrible time trying to adjust to his program. But then they largely ignored the last two pope’s condemnations of our wars, the calls to reform Catholic universities, etc.

  • George Thompson

    Mr. Marks, I was born and bred in the Catholic Church, but found over time that while I never left it, it left me (I think Reagan said similar about the Democrat Party). During my tenure as an altar boy, there was a dedicated group of parishioners who met every Sunday before Mass to pray the Rosary for the downfall of the Soviet Union since under Soviet Communism the Church was persecuted. I myself was named for a Maryknoll missionary to China (and great friend to my parents) who ‘disappeared’. Given their track record under socialist regimes, it is incomprehensible that American Catholics and Jews believe this time will be different. They will probably only awaken to their folly when a tyrant they helped enthrone needs torches for the garden. The last time I checked all those rosaries eventually paid off, and still they don’t get it.

    • George Thompson

      Just a clarification. Father George was a missionary to Communist China, and my folks last heard from him about 1952.

  • Paul Marks Paul Marks

    Yes Mr Thompson – many people have told me this.

    Vatican II (and Liberation Theology) seem to have reopened the doors to old errors – very old errors.

    No doubt there was a lot wrong with the Roman Catholic Church of the 1950s – but this sort of “reform” is not what was needed.

  • Paul Marks Paul Marks

    As for the stuff, from various people here, about the credit bubble bankers (whom I also despise) controlling the government and other companies controlling the government and so on…….

    Well at least it is not “the Jews”.

    Anti Semitism may be the “socialism of fools” – but actually all forms of socialism (including Fascism) are foolish.

  • Religion, being mans early attempt to explain his surroundings and existence, was his worst effort. The bible was unaware of micro organisms and DNA, but science has explained these things with irrefutable evidence that we take them for granted, yet still this vestige of mystical superstition hangs on in our lives left over from our days of being preyed upon by wild animals or other humans.
    I once heard that all religious people are atheist to another religions god. Also that the most devastating evidence against a creator is for instance the 3 tiny ear bones, the hammer, anvil and stirrup, that can be clearly shown to have evolved from the plates like bones of ancient fish. Had a creator wanted to design and ear then he would surely have simply made one from scratch.
    I read the Old Testament and noted that Adam and Eve were the only humans on earth. They had Cane and Able who then got married and had children of their own.Who did they marry? There was only Eve.
    If you question your religion then you are not a follower and it is easy to see why.

    • I once heard that we are all obliged to respond to the religion to which we are called. I imagine that means atheism too. If the religious had the faith in God that atheists have in science, we’d all be better off.

  • Paul Marks Paul Marks

    I do not agree with Thomas Woods on everything – but I agree with his view that the relationship between Christianity and science is a lot more complicated than most modern people seem to believe. Indeed most of the time (not all the time) the influence of Christianity and Christians upon natural science was a positive one.

    As for the Old Testament.

    Trying to understand the Hebrew scriptures has been the study of the Talmud (one of the largest and complex studies in the history of humanity) for many centuries. The great Common Lawyer John Selden choose the Talmud as the book he would take with him when he was sent to the Tower of London – because of the quality of its reasoning.

    Of course one can just take the Old Testament “raw” (for example the whole of Islam has been interpreted as a “revolt against the Talmud” – an effort to take the raw text literally. an early Islamic slogan was “raise your hand” an attack on the Jewish practice of placing ones hand, when reading aloud to unlearned people, over parts of the Torah where the death sentence seems to be declared for minor crimes or even things that are not, properly speaking, crimes at all), but I do not believe it is a good idea.

    I hasten to add that, sadly, unlike many people for this island (Pelagius, Roger Bacon, Ralph Cudworth and so on – down the centuries) I a NOT a scholar of Hebrew.

    Alas – I am an unlettered barbarian.