Yet another pope gets it horribly wrong 11

The Washington Post reports that Pope Francis (born Jorge Mario Bergoglioco in Argentina), issued a long (50,000 word) statement  on November 26, 2013, in which he  expressed disgust with capitalism and advocated redistribution as a sure formula for eliminating poverty.

It is a highly audacious – in our opinion impudent –  display of economic ignorance.

Pope Francis … sharply criticized growing economic inequality and unfettered markets in a wide-ranging and decidedly populist teaching that revealed how he plans to reshape the Catholic Church.

“Unfettered markets.” If you don’t chain ’em up they will attack you?

In his most authoritative writings as pontiff, Francis decried an “idolatry of money” in secular culture and warned that it would lead to “a new tyranny”. …

A statement rich in baloney. (1) No one sane worships money (not even the many  cruel and lascivious Popes who accumulated it passionately in pre-Enlightenment times did that). It is a medium of exchange. It is wanted for what it can do, what it can acquire, not for what it is. That’s why the poor are in need of it. (2) He decries poverty, yet he scorns money. (3) Market economies do not lead to tyrannies. But governments that redistribute money are exercising a form of tyranny.  And wherever economic equality  is enforced, it is always an equality of misery. Except for those who do the distribution. They invariably redistribute a big whack to themselves.

[Pope Francis] showed a willingness to use tough language in attacking what he views as the excesses of capitalism.

“The excesses of capitalism”? Wherever on this earth there is prosperity, wherever the poor are least poor and have the best chance of getting richer, capitalism is the magic that does the trick; and it is only in a free society, where the free market – or “capitalism’ – operates, that the poor are least poor and can most easily become richer.

Using a phrase with special resonance in the United States, he strongly criticized an economic theory — often affiliated [sic] with conservatives — that discourages taxation and regulation.

Yes, we conservatives do dislike, and would discourage, governments taking money from those who earn it and giving it to those who don’t. And we don’t think bureaucrats know better how to run our businesses than we do.

The Pope’s statement is then quoted directly:

“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”

Since he does not understand that wealth is created, but conceives it to be a fixed “pie” that some get too big a slice of leaving too little for others, he thinks that those capitalists “affiliated” with a “trickle-down” theory (his use of that phrase greatly impressed the reporters who see it as a sign that Bergoglioco knows what he’s talking about) have made some sort of promise or prediction that their riches will bring about “greater justice and inclusiveness in the world”. He means “social justice” – a meaningless phrase, dear to the hearts of egalitarians, statists, and collectivists in general. But the poor in – say – America, are not poor because someone, or a class of people, has been unjust to them. And what can he mean by “inclusiveness”? If he means participation in the market, it is open to all in a free – but not an egalitarian – society. Perhaps he has a picture of ragged starving people begging at the gates of a castle, as in the centuries when the Catholic Church ruled over Europe.

Although Francis has previously raised concerns about the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor, the direct reference to “trickle-down” economics in the English translation of his statement is striking. The phrase has often been used derisively to describe a popular version of conservative economic philosophy that argues that allowing the wealthy to run their businesses unencumbered by regulation or taxation bears economic benefits that lead to more jobs and income for the rest of society. Liberals and Democratic officials have rejected the theory, saying it is contradicted by economic evidence.

It is not contradicted by the evidence. All the evidence points the other way. Every experiment in redistribution, ie socialism, has failed. And how does encumbering business with regulation and taxation help society? Is a heavily taxed business more or less likely to employ more people? As for regulation, the Obama administration has issued and continues to issue such a volume of it, that if it could reduce unemployment and restore prosperity it would surely have done so spectacularly by now!

Then comes the really dangerous part of the Washington Post article:

Some scholars say the Pope’s statement should invariably shape the thinking of today’s Catholics.

There’s no way a Catholic who is a serious intellectual can ever again not address the issue of income inequality, of the structural sins of our economic system. This is so front and center,” said Michael Sean Winters, a fellow at Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies. …

Francis’s words may ripple across many fronts.

‘The structural sins of our economic system.” Capitalism, or the free market, or “the natural order of liberty” as Adam Smith called it – is sinful!  If millions of Catholics are going to have to believe that …

But wait. Will Catholics who are literate in economics and therefore supporters of the free market have to “address the structural sins of our economic system”?

The pope’s statements — especially if they continue — could impact U.S. politics. Several potential contenders for the presidency in 2016 are economic conservatives who are also Catholic, and liberal Catholic groups have in the past taken aim at what they view as the overly stingy policies of Republicans who have little regard for the role of government in redistributing income.

A government that doesn’t redistribute is being “stingy”, you see?

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), a recent proponent of those policies and a devout Catholic, has said before that he tries to uphold Catholic teaching “as best I can” and believes his policies match Catholic teaching because they emphasize small institutions close to the people — for example, churches — over the role of state or federal government. A spokesman for Ryan declined to comment Tuesday on the pope’s statement.

Hard to imagine what he could possibly say to reconcile irreconcilables. If this nonsense from Pope Francis is now “Catholic teaching”, will someone like Paul Ryan have to choose  between being a Catholic and being a Republican?

There is a lot more nonsense to be read in the article  – including a reminder that the Church is against Communism!

John Paul II’s warnings on economic inequality were swallowed at times by his war on Communism, a far more dangerous problem in the church’s eyes because of its anti-religious bent …

So atheism is even worse than the “unfettered” market in papal eyes.

Also reported is the Pope’s belief that the 2001 economic collapse of his native country, Argentina, was due to a failure of free market capitalism. For a description of what actually happened – authoritarian central control, hyperinflation, rising debt, bad decisions, and extreme corruption – listen to the first 13 minutes or so of this lecture.

Winters said a key to understanding Francis is that he’s from Argentina and was archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2001, when the country’s economy collapsed.“When you see people trying to bless capitalism, he has a very real, vivid experience of capitalism and what it has brought to his country, and it’s not a happy experience,” Winters said.

We cannot of course review all the evil that the Catholic Church has done over the last 1800 years, to which this mischief is now to be added. (Yes, it might sometimes have meant to do good, but as Christians say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.) But we will give one reminder since we received only yesterday an email from a retired academic, commenting on the Pope’s statement, that provides a particularly vivid example of the Church’s iniquity in recent history.

Alexander Firestone writes:

How did Hitler become German chancellor? The one man most responsible, apart from the Nazis themselves, was Eugenio Pacelli, Papal Nuncio to Germany at the time and later Pope Pius XII. And he did it consciously and deliberately. Throughout Weimar Germany from the Kaiser’s abdication in 1918 until Hitler became chancellor on 30 January 1933, elections were generally free and fair in Germany. The three largest political parties were [1] the Communists (KPD) who in every election got 20% of the vote, concentrated mostly in a few large cities like Berlin and Hamburg; [2] the Socialists (SPD) who always got another 20% of the vote, also concentrated in major cities. Both parties had their loyal followers who never wavered. But the largest party was [3] the Catholic Center Party which regularly got 30% of the vote, heavily concentrated in Catholic Bavaria and the Rhineland. They got zilch in heavily Protestant areas like Saxony and Prussia.Thus, most governments were headed by Chancellor Heinrich Brüning, leader of the Catholic Center Party a generally conservative, but not extremist group.

In the election of June 1932 the communists and socialists each got their standard 20% and the Catholic Center got its standard 30%. A government was formed with Brüning as chancellor consisting of the catholic center, the socialists, and a few votes from the remaining parties; mostly small and mostly representing agricultural interests in largely Protestant areas, to get over 50%. In that election the National Socialists [the Nazis] got 12%, an all time high for them, at the expense of some small agricultural parties. The coalition did not work well. Thanks to the depression, unemployment was high and taxes could not be raised further, but the socialists demanded ever larger welfare programs. Brüning did the only thing he could; print more money, basically surrendering to the socialists. That summer Eugenio Pacelli became Papal Nuncio to Germany and chair of the German Catholic Council of Bishops.

Eventually, Brüning had to call for new elections, and he did so for December 1932. German electoral law specifies that elections may be held on any day of the week except Sunday. Therefore, there must be a last Sunday before an election. The practice had been (actually going back to Bismark’s time) for a letter to be read in every Catholic church in Germany on the Sunday just before an election providing church guidance to all German Catholics on how to vote. That letter is written by the Papal Nuncio, blessed by the Pope, and definitive for all Catholics. Since 1918 the letter recommended voting for the Catholic Center Party but did not require it. It also forbade voting for the Communists. After 1923 it was modified to forbid voting for the Communists or the Nazis. Pacelli abolished the Catholic Center Party, calling a Catholic party “unseemly”, even though it was the largest party in Germany. Pacelli also rewrote the Catholic Church letter. The recommendation to vote for the Catholic Center Party was dropped, but the provision forbidding (as a mortal sin) a vote for the communists was still there. The provision forbidding a vote for the Nazis was also dropped. On a vote for the Nazis the letter was silent.

In the December 1932 election the Communists and Socialists each got their standard 20%, and from the usual places, and the Nazis increased their vote from 12% in June to 44% in December. Analysis of voting patterns shows that they increased from 12% to 14% at the expense of the little agricultural parties AND they got the entire 30% from Bavaria and the Rhineland that had once gone to the Catholic Center Party. The German Catholics of Bavaria and the Rhineland got the message and voted as they were supposed to. Always helpful, the Communists announced that they would vote against any government in which they did not get the economics, labor and foreign ministries. Of course, with 44% of the votes themselves, the Nazis had only to bribe a few of the little agricultural parties to get over 50%, which they did. There was a lot of twisting and squirming in December and January, but on 30 January 1933 President Hindenberg did the inevitable and asked Hitler to form a government. That is how, in short, Eugenio Pacelli made Hitler Chancellor of Germany.

As a comment on the idea that capitalism ruined Argentina, TAC Associate Robert Kantor adds this:

The latest speech by the Pope makes explicit what has been known for a long time, namely, that the Church is and has always been anti-capitalist, preferring the top-down economic control and redistributionist policies that have proved such spectacular failures in Marxist and fascist countries. At the turn of the 20th century, the United States and Argentina both served as powerful magnets to immigrants from Europe. Both seemed to be a land of the future. Argentina, which has had the kind of strong central government (i.e., semi-fascist) the Pope seems to find so congenial, is still the land of the future — and always will be.  

Frightening sympathy 6

The British Conservative James Delingpole, with whom we usually agree, writes at the Telegraph about the dismal view he takes of the Republican Party candidates in this year’s presidential election.

His assessment of them is so dismal that he thinks that letting Obama, “the POTUS from hell”,  wreck the country for another four years would be a better choice than electing any of them.

We cannot wholly agree with him this time because we think no one on the political horizon could be worse for America than Obama, but we like his article and see his point:

Let’s get one thing clear: Obama unquestionably ranks among the bottom five presidents in US history. In terms of sublime awfulness he’s right up there with our late and extremely unlamented ex-PM Gordon Brown – which is quite some doing, given that Brown singlehandedly wrought more destruction on his country than the Luftwaffe, Dutch Elm Disease, the South Sea Bubble, the Fire of London and the Black Death combined.

Agreed: the damage President Obama has done to the US economy with everything from Ben Bernanke’s insane money-printing programme, to his cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline, to his ban on deep-water drilling to his crony capitalism hand-outs to disaster zones like Solyndra to his persecution of companies like Gibson is incalculable. And, of course, if he gets a second term the damage he and his rag-bag of Marxist cronies at organisations like the Environmental Protection Agency manage to inflict on the US small businessman trying to make an honest buck will make his first term look like Calvin Coolidge on steroids.

So why do I think this would be preferable to a presidency under Mitt Romney? Simple. Because I’ve seen what happens, America, when you elect yet another spineless, yet ruthless, principle-free blow-with-the-wind, big government, crony-capitalist RINO squish. His name is Dave Cameron – and trust me, the cure is far worse than the disease.

Of course it may not seem that way at first. You’ll be so busy dancing round in circles singing “Ding Dong the witch is dead!” that euphoria and relief will completely overwhelm your intellect and your powers of observation. You’ll read endless articles by David L Brooks, the New York Times’s pet pretend-conservative, telling you how Romney is just the kind of uniting, post-partisan, pragmatic POTUS America needed. And you’ll believe it because you’ll want to believe it. This may last for some considerable length of time. In Britain, many Cameroon conservatives … continue to perform this auto-lobotomisation even now.

But then, little by little, something rather unpleasant will begin to dawn on you. The label on the can may have changed but the contents taste remarkably similar. Similarly emetic, that is.

Yes, I know from the other side of the pond David Cameron may look just the kind of stand-up conservative you’d like running the US. But that’s only because the stories you hear about him are extremely selective. For example, I’m constantly surprised by US talk show hosts telling me how tough on militant Islam Cameron is because of some speech they heard Dave give once about the problems of multiculturalism.

But surely we should judge our political leaders by what they actually achieve rather than (Tony Blair-style) by what they tell us they are achieving.

Here are some of David Cameron’s achievements so far:

He has prolonged the economic crisis …

He has urged quotas for women in the boardroom, apparently in the belief that the State has either the knowledge or the right to decide how business conducts its affairs.

He has presided over a massive wind-farm building programme which, besides destroying the British countryside and enriching his father-in-law, is causing energy bills to soar to the point where old people are dying of hypothermia.

He has surrendered at almost every turn to the Carthaginian terms offered to Britain by the European Socialist Superstate.

He has proved himself incapable of expelling the Islamist hate-preacher Abu Qatada. [See our post The tale of a Muslim terrorist parasite, January 18, 2012.]

The list is by no means exhaustive. I would go on but, actually, this was never meant to be a “collected examples of the unutterable crapness of David Cameron” blog. Rather, it’s supposed to be a more generalised warning about the dangers of short-termist thinking.

Yes, of course, conservative/libertarian America, I fully understand how desperate you are to rid yourself of the POTUS from hell. But what you need to ask yourselves – and I don’t believe many of you are: you’re a bit like an hysterical woman who’s just had a tarantula drop on top of her in the bath, you just want to GET RID OF IT NOW! – is what ultimately you’re trying to achieve.

I’m presuming what you really want is stuff like: smaller government; a genuine – as opposed to an illusory, QE-driven – economic recovery; sensible environmentalism (ie conservation but not eco-fascism); liberty; an end of crony capitalism; a diminution of the power of Wall Street; a resurgence of American greatness; a renewed sense of confidence and purpose.

You’re not going to get any of that from a Romney administration.

But you will, provided you’ve got the patience, get it in 2016 from President West or President Rand Paul or President Palin or President Ryan.

Only it might be TOO LATE.

 

(Hat-tip Andrew M)

Either/or 11

Professor Stephen Prothero is a professor of religion at Boston University.  As one might expect of a professor of religion, he makes unwarrantable assumptions.

He does so in a column he’s written for USA Today titled You can’t reconcile Ayn Rand and Jesus.

Who’s trying to?

The Tea Party, he assumes.

The Tea Party protests against the Obama government’s economic policies of redistribution, deficit spending on ever-increasing entitlements, the robbing of “the rich” and the enforced dependency of “the poor”, resulting in high unemployment and a load of debt on future generations.

Ayn Rand would be sympathetic to such protest. Some Tea Partiers carry signs quoting her.  So  – Professor Prothero reasons – the Tea Party is inspired by her philosophy.

“But hold on a mo!”, he says to himself, figuratively scratching his head. “Everyone in the Tea Party is conservative – and aren’t all conservatives religious? Aren’t most of them evangelical Christians?  Sure they are. So they’re in deep confusion. Ayn Rand was an atheist. I must straighten them out. Make them see that they hold contradictory views. Explain to them that they cannot be both for Jesus and for Ayn Rand.”

For what Jesus? We surmise that everyone who thinks about Jesus, whether or not he’s a Christian, has his own Jesus in his head. Stephen Prothero’s Jesus is a lefty.  He quotes the biblical Jesus as saying: “Blessed are the poor”. Lefties have reason to bless the poor every day of their lives, and hope they never go away (ie become rich), for in the name of that imaginary caste lefties pursue their egalitarian cause, believing the pursuit to be so ennobling that they can be as nasty as they choose to real people without losing a drop of their moral pride.

Professor Prothero will remember that the biblical Jesus is reported as saying not only “Blessed are the poor” (Luke 6:20), but “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:6), which lefties plainly are not.

But let’s go to the professor’s own words (you can read them all here if you care to):

In Rand’s Manichaean world, it is not God vs. Satan, but individualism vs. collectivism.

Right. And we too see the great political divide as being between individualism and collectivism.

He goes on:

While Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor,” she sings Hosannas to the rich. The heroes of Atlas Shrugged (which, alas, is only slightly shorter than the Bible) are captains of industry such as John Galt. The villains are the “looters” and “moochers” — people who by hook (guilt) or by crook (government coercion) steal from the hard-won earnings of others.

The professor’s sympathies are all with the moochers. He praises Jesus for being “a first-class, grade-A ‘moocher’.”

He proceeds, scornfully and sarcastically:

Turning the tables on traditional Christian morality, Rand argues that altruism is immoral and selfishness is good.

Our argument is that selfishness is essential to our survival, though it doesn’t preclude generosity or even altruism (which is very rarely practiced). See our post Against God and Socialism, April 29, 2011.

Moreover, there isn’t a problem in the world that laissez-faire capitalism can’t solve if left alone to perform its miracles.

Of course there are problems that cannot be solved, but individuals left free to innovate profitably can and do solve a lot of them. Collectives cannot and do not.

The solutions that capitalism facilitates are not claimed to be miracles. Miracles happen only in the minds of the religious and the gullible.

Ayn Rand was as much against religion as we are. “Faith, as such, is extremely detrimental to human life,” Prothero quotes her as saying, without comment. To him her words are shocking, and he expects them to shock his readers. We, however, agree with her. Our pages provide ample evidence that religion has always done and continues to do immense harm.

He himself, Prothero half confesses, was a bit of a fan of Ayn Rand when he was in his adolescnce. But, he implies, her appeal can only be to the adolescent mind:

I first read Atlas Shrugged and her other popular novel, The Fountainhead, while festival-hopping in Spain after graduating from college, so I can attest to the appeal of this philosophy to late adolescents of a certain gender.

“A certain gender”? What gender would that be? And why only that one? He doesn’t say.

As an adult, however, Rand’s work reads to me like a vulgar rationalization for greed lying on top of a perverse myth of the right relationship between individual and community.

Now we don’t recognize the sin of greed, but we do recognize the sin of envy. Socialism – or “redistributionism” – is the politics of envy.

The obvious tendency of Prothero’s argument is that Jesus is right and Rand is wrong. Towards the end of his column he claims, however, not to be trying to win readers from Rand to Jesus, he’s only trying to point out that the two contradict each other. “You cannot worship both the God of Jesus and the mammon of Rand,” he says. Choose one or the other,  “or say no to both. It’s a free country. Just don’t tell me you are both a card-carrying Objectivist and a Bible-believing Christian. Even Rand knew that just wasn’t possible.”

That’s his message to Tea Partiers who display Rand quotations, and to Republicans, who also, he assumes, are guilty of trying to reconcile Ayn Rand and Jesus.

Any Republicans in particular? He names Paul Ryan:

Among Rand’s adoring acolytes on Capitol Hill is Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who at a Library of Congress Symposium held in 2005 on the centenary of the Rand’s birth called her “the reason I got involved in public service.”

We are delighted, and not at all surprised, to hear that Paul Ryan learnt from Ayn Rand. If we had nothing else to be grateful to Ayn Rand for, her getting Paul Ryan “involved in public service” would put us hugely in her debt. His capitalist convictions and economic know-how is already doing good for the Republican Party, and would do good for America (and therefore to the world) if he were to become president. We see him as the desperately needed leader under whom the United States of America would again embody the great idea of individual freedom on which it was founded.

 

(Hat tip to our reader George for bringing Stephen Prothero’s column to our attention.)

Note added in 2020: We sure were wrong about Paul Ryan! But we still like both the Tea Party and Ayn Rand. Not Jesus.