Acton Institute Powerblog

Don’t Blame Markets, But Sin for Environmental Problems

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Kishore Jayabalan, director of the Acton Insitute’s Rome office – Istituto Acton –  has issued the following statement today regarding Pope Francis’s much-awaited enviromental encyclical Laudato Si’. Among other things, Jayabalan notes: “[Francis] seems to blame markets, over-consumption and especially finance, rather than human sin, for all our environmental problems.”

I appreciate and welcome Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si’, which challenges us to re-examine how we treat the earth and each other. These are non-negotiables for Catholics and there is much we can do to improve our everyday conduct. I must admit to disappointment when it comes to the pope’s overwhelming attribution of environmental and social damage to market economics, however. He seems to blame markets, over-consumption and especially finance, rather than human sin, for all our environmental problems.

His partial analysis neglects what markets and finance have historically done to provide cleaner air, water, and greater food security for millions of people the world over. We know that environmental damage is much worse when no one is responsible for their own property and when they can’t plan for their own future by way of insurance or commodity futures. Economics has actually helped well-intentioned people achieve the goals of poverty reduction and sustainable development, even as much work remains to be done. Any system reflects the character of those who act in it, so personal and social ethics remain fundamental.

I am therefore curious as to what the Holy Father would want us to do in this much-criticized global economy? We can certainly become enslaved to technology and material possessions, as the pope says, and should find ways to avoid it. But simply consuming less often ends up hurting the poor who would like to do business with us. Would making everyone materially poorer make us spiritually richer? Perhaps for some, but not for those who lack the basic necessities of life. Would saving and investing, rather than consuming, be a better way to help the poor? I would like to think that the pope wants us to become more mindful and intentional in what we do and to live with a spirit of detachment as we engage the very marketplaces he seems to condemn.

For more expert commentary, please visit our media page dedicated to the social encyclical Laudato Si’ .

Michael Severance

Comments

  • wva88

    I find it strange that this blog mentions the word “sin.” This is because one of the core principles of the Acton institue is that sin does not exist.

    The institute holds that with regard to their economic behavior, people are angelic creations. That while a poor person may attempt to defraud a wealthy person or a corporation, those in our society with means will always perfectly abide by ethical norms. Therefore, there is no need for regulatory agencies, or criminal prosecution for financial fraud.

    This is, apparently, why the Acton Institute has called for the abolition of all forms of financial regulation in the United States. One should note that Acton has criticized the US Justice Department’s investigation of LIBOR-fixing at Barclay’s bank. The Acton belief is apparently that it is inconceivable that a financial institution should behave in an illegal or unethical manner.

    In Catholic moral theology, we hold that cohabitation between a male and a female is immoral since it will necessarily result in temptation to engage in immoral sexual behavior. The exact same temptation and analysis must apply to the economic marketplace.

    In the town in which I live there are two gas stations. The price of gas is 20 cents/gallon higher than any other neighboring community. The two owners meet for breakfast every weekday at the local McDonalds. The price of gas changes shortly thereafter by an identical amount at exactly the same time. No reasonable person can deny that price-fixing takes place. If a fallen person feels that the government will allow him to get away with something, that person will take advantage of it.

    Every human is a fallen creature. Wealth does not remove this flaw, in fact it probably strengthens it. It is only the immediate and massive coercive power of the state that will protect a person from falling prey to overwhelming temptation. That used to be the case with cohabitation, it is still – a bit – the case with illegal drugs. This also must necessarily apply to the US economy.

    To believe that any human person is perfect and free from temptation is a heresy.

    • Marc Vander Maas

      This is because one of the core principles of the Acton institue is that sin does not exist.

      I guess if you want to open with a bald-faced lie, you can do that. But don’t expect to be taken all that seriously from then on out.

      The institute holds that with regard to their economic behavior, people are angelic creations. That while a poor person may attempt to defraud a wealthy person or a corporation, those in our society with means will always perfectly abide by ethical norms. Therefore, there is no need for regulatory agencies, or criminal prosecution for financial fraud.

      In the future please try to be more subtle in your attempts to mischaracterize what we believe.

      • wva88

        This is the problem: One can make any claim that one likes, however, the mere fact that a claim is made does not mean the claim is true.

        For example, Planned Parenthood states that “they do not support or encourage abortion.” Now, does anyone believe that?

        In the same way, Acton may state in its Core Principles that it believes in the sinful nature of humanity. Also, many member and supporters repeatedly state that Acton does not support laissez faire Capitalism. However, is there any evidence to suggest that these statements have any basis in reality?

        Can you provide any concrete example of where Acton has supported increased regulation to provide equal access to markets or protection of property rights for individuals regardless of their economic status? Can you provide specific references to Acton’s support for specific laws and regulations in the United States to eliminate economic corruption? Examples would include mandatory prison sentences for corporate officers and share-holders who benefit from fraud. Otherwise, we are left in the same situation as Planned Parenthood’s claim to “never encourage abortion.”

        • Marc Vander Maas

          This is the problem: One can make any claim that one likes, however, the mere fact that a claim is made does not mean the claim is true.

          You’re the one making claims. Or, put another way, you’re the liar. I don’t feel particularly compelled to spend time refuting your bald-faced lie.

    • Mary J. Nelson

      I can see that you have missed many points completely and mischaracterized the entire mission of the Acton Institute.

  • TimHuegerich

    Am I missing something, or is the last paragraph as misguided as I think it is? https://actonwatch.wordpress.com/