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Andrew Abela, 2009 Novak Award recipient from the Acton Institute, offered a business perspective on Pope Benedict XVI’s new social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, to the Catholic news service Zenit.  In the interview, Abela talked about ways the encyclical could point the way out of the global financial crisis:

ZENIT: Does the Holy Father give any concrete means for digging ourselves out of the economic crisis?

Abela: Yes. It seems to me that the Holy Father is saying that trust is essential for our economy to work, and we have lost this trust because we have viewed the market as a place for narrow exchange only, where there is no need for generosity or fraternity, but only the adherence to contract.

Unfortunately, in many cases even that adherence to contract couldn’t be counted on, and therefore trust was lost.

In order to recover from the economic crisis, in addition to the proper role of government in orienting the market to the common good, the Pope is saying that it would help if we realized that generosity and fraternity are not foreign to market relationships, and in fact they are necessary to build the trust that the market requires if it is to operate well.

The Pope refers to the Economy of Communion project as an example of this happening. This project is a group of over 700 companies worldwide who are working within the marketplace for higher goals than solely profit. It sprung out of the Focolare movement as a direct response to the previous social encyclical, “Centesimus Annus.”

Abela also addresses a heated and what is becoming a much debated question on whether Pope Benedict the XVI condemns capitalism:

ZENIT: Has the Holy Father condemned capitalism?

Abela: No. In fact the word “capitalism” does not appear even once in the encyclical, probably because the word is subject to so many different interpretations.

Instead he speaks of the market economy, which is a more open term and avoids the ambiguity of differing opinions about what capitalism really is. A market economy is based on a free market and is not harmful in itself, but it can be made so as a result of ideology.

The Pope states that it “is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility” (No. 36).

The entire interview can be found on Zenit’s website.

In his new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI calls for an international political authority, “so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth.” He tasks it with issues like human rights, ensuring access to necessities including food and water, and managing the global economy. What might an effective international governing body look like?

The Nobel laureate economist Friedrich Hayek asked the same question in 1944 in his book, The Road to Serfdom. Seeing his beloved Europe torn apart by war and gross economic inequalities, Hayek wrote, “we cannot hope for order or lasting peace after this war if states, large or small, regain unfettered sovereignty in the economic sphere.” He was referencing World War II, but it sounds like the Pope feels the same way about hoping for order and prosperity after this recession.

Neither Hayek nor the Pope have utopian visions of the world. The Pope reaffirmed the value of subsidiarity many times in Caritas in Veritate. Subsidiarity is the principle that decisions should be left to the smallest competent authority. In questions of politics and economics, this is often a local authority; it is rarely an international organization. Hayek said the same thing when he noted that “the problems raised by a conscious direction of economic affairs on a national scale inevitably assume even greater dimensions when the same is attempted internationally.”

These constraints make international governance difficult, and they all but rule out any effort by a world body to coordinate economic activity. Real problems still remain with a nationally-divided world, though. Hayek said that “it is neither necessary nor desirable that national boundaries sharp differences in standards of living,” and the Pope refers to the “scandal of glaring inequalities” in Caritas in Veritate. What, then, is to be done?

First, it is necessary to ask what stands in the way of people having their rights respected and their needs met. All too often, it is the state. The Pope criticizes much government-to-government foreign aid on the grounds that corruption and bad economic policy need to be fixed before money will do any lasting good. He also calls for Western countries to end the subsidies to agriculture that block farmers in poor countries from having fair access to global markets. When it comes to accessing investment, food, and water, poor governance has done much to hold back the world’s most impoverished people.

As an Austrian who witnessed the rise of Nazism, fascism, and communism in Europe, Hayek shared a similar critique of the unwillingness of many governments to give their people the freedom they need to flourish. His experiences impacted his vision of the international order, and Hayek ultimately proposed that “there must be a power which can restrain the different nations from action harmful to their neighbors, a set of rules which defines what a state may do, and an authority capable of enforcing these rules… it must, above all, be able to say ‘No’ to all sorts of restrictive measures.”

Perhaps Pope Benedict XVI could draw inspiration from this perspective. In order to promote general equity and a search for the common human good among nations, an international authority with the ability to check irrational and cruel decisions made by governments may be the best way to proceed. An international body with the ability to veto rights abuses, tariffs, excessive inflation, corporate welfare policies, agricultural subsidies, and other harmful laws might be the best way to encourage the solidarity of the “family of nations.” It would let markets tap into the ability of every person to create wealth and meet their own needs through the dignity of their own work. By promoting openness and checking destructive policies without trying to take on the job of managing everything in the world, such an authority could also meet the Pope’s requirement that global political authority be organized in “a subsidiary and stratified way.”

The United Nations may or may not be the best organization to carry forward this vision, and it is possible that some other body might be the future of internal governance “with teeth.” Between Hayek, the Pope, and everyone looking for the best way to heed the challenges of Caritas in Veritate, hopefully a productive framework for governing globalization so that it works for the benefit of everyone can emerge.

Recently the Acton Institute dedicated a resource page on its website to Pope Benedict XVI’s new social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate.  The resource page contains blog posts and articles about Caritas in Veritate from policy experts and staff members from the Acton Institute.  Furthermore the resource page will be updated with new content and provide an in-depth analysis on Caritas in Veritate.

Blog author: mcavedon
posted by on Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Click here for the text of Pope Benedict’s new social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, and keep checking back here at the Acton PowerBlog for more commentary.

Katherine Jean Lopez of National Review Online interviewed me about the new papal encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, shortly after its release this morning here in Rome:

LOPEZ: Obviously the topic of ethics and the economy resonates with people today. What can a Catholic take away from the new encyclical when it comes to his lost job, the stimulus, or government takeovers?

JAYABALAN: It’s hard to summarize such a long and complex document into a lesson or two, but I’ll try. First is the absolute importance of Truth to our understanding of charity, efficiency, and economics. For Catholics, this means the Church’s fundamental theological and moral teachings, which should be received as gifts rather than burdens, as difficult as they may seem to us. The Church’s theological understanding of charity and justice should make all Catholics feel responsible for each other and think and act accordingly. This is the real meaning of solidarity.

During the interview I was also asked about the importance of the encyclical to non-Catholics and what they can take away from it:

LOPEZ: What can the non-Catholic learn from the encyclical?

JAYABALAN: He doesn’t distinguish between Catholics and non-Catholics in the encyclical but calls all of us to broaden our use of reason beyond the merely technical or scientific. Benedict also recalls the limited nature of the state and its inability to provide the most important thing — love.

As Benedict argues in his previous encyclicals, as well as the current one, the state is no replacement for the family or the church: The state cannot love us  — and it would be a scary thing even if it could.

Even where the state does have some responsibilities, it may obey the principle of subsidiarity — that is, let individuals, families, churches, businesses, and local communities handle their own problems first. This is the setting for the pope’s call for fraternity and a vibrant, diverse civil society.

The entire interview can be read at The Corner.

The official release of Pope Benedict’s social encyclical Caritas in Veritate took place this morning at the Holy See Press Office in Rome.

There were four speakers at the presentation: Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (PCJP), Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, the newly-appointed bishop of Trieste and former Secretary of PCJP, and Professor Stefano Zamagni, Professor of Economics at the University of Bologna and a consultor for PCJP.

All of the formal presentations in Italian can be found here.

It’s well-known but not often publicly revealed that the presenters of an encyclical were usually close collaborators with the pope on the encyclical, so it’s often worth listening to their explanations and more importantly their answers to the journalists’ questions.

I won’t provide a blow-by-blow account, but here is my summary of more interesting issues raised at the press conference:

- Both Cardinal Martino and Archbishop Crepaldi spoke of the ideology or problem of technique as one of the new, main themes of the encyclical.

- Cardinal Cordes denied that the encyclical or the Church proposes a “third way” between capitalism or socialism, as the Church has no technical model to offer. (This leads one to wonder if a moral critique can be made without an adequate technical understanding, as the former Cardinal Ratzinger once wrote.)

- Professor Zamagni noted the distinction between a market economy and capitalism (which was also made in Pope John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus, n. 42), adding that the Franciscans had a form of market economy in Italy long before the term “capitalism”, with its Marxist ideological connotations, ever existed.

- There were several questions about this very important distinction, with one French journalist noting an “anti-liberal, anti-capitalist” slant to the encyclical and another asking about the role of profit in a pre-capitalist, market economy. It was encouraging to hear Professor Zamagni deny the first and Cardinal Martino speak positively about the second.

- Professor Zamagni also addressed the nature of the ethical basis of the encyclical, stating that not all ethical systems are the same. The encyclical is based on “a virtue ethics that comes from Aristotle and Aquinas”.

- The most difficult questions concerned the nature of a “world political authority” mentioned in n. 67 of the encyclical, which refers to Pope John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris. Is this authority the same as the United Nations? Why would the Holy See, which has fought tooth-and-nail to protect the sanctity of life, marriage and the family at the UN, think such an authority would be a good thing? Would giving “real teeth” to the UN be a good idea? And why would Prof. Zamagni call for a Security Council for social and economic affairs, when the actual Security Council is widely regarded to be an ineffective way of dealing with international peace and security?

The answers to these questions usually referred to previous papal encyclicals, the difference between government (or a supra-state) and governance, which would presumably respect subsidiarity better than other supra-national entities such as the European Union. Others answered that the UN is the only game in town and the Holy See has to work with it.

I know, I know. These aren’t very satisfying answers to me either, and I used to work for the Holy See at the UN! Well, maybe Pope Benedict’s next social encyclical can take up issues of sovereignty and international relations. For now, we should carefully read and digest Caritas in Veritate.

Published in newspapers across Indiana– for example, here and here in the (Jeffersonville/New Albany) News-Tribune

Excerpts from essay #1:

…We also hear assertions that various forms of government involvement in health care are likely to be effective in the U.S. because they work well in other countries. Aside from whether this is true, it should be noted that these other countries have lower populations and, typically, far less diversity in their populations. So these comparisons are somewhere between somewhat helpful and useless. One of the ironies of the health-care debate is that such comparisons should encourage us to consider state-based reforms (instead of a single, grand federal experiment), since the population and diversity of our states is similar to other countries.

A second myth is far more important: We’re often told that our current health-care system is “free-market.” This is akin to blaming the Great Depression on markets — while ignoring the four tax increases of Hoover and FDR, massive trade protectionism, restrictive monetary policy, laws that artificially increased prices and wages and so on. In both cases, the extent to which we should blame the government is an open question. But ignoring its role in either mess is neither legitimate nor useful.

With health care, there is already massive government intervention. The most obvious example is the double debut of Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s. In addition, there is a wide array of relatively minor but still significant issues: various labor market restrictions (e.g., you and I are not allowed to receive medical services from professionals who provide the same services to our armed forces), mandated insurance benefits (for everything from in-vitro fertilization to hair transplants), the explosion of medical malpractice awards (and thus, malpractice insurance rates) and so on.

But the most important public policy in this realm? The subsidy of health insurance acquired by workers through the firm….

Excerpts from essay #2:

The current mix of government and markets in health care certainly has an amazing amount of inefficiency. But will bureaucracy and red tape be reduced or enhanced with more government?

It’s difficult to imagine much if any gain. Thus, extending health-care availability will probably involve higher costs or reduced access in other contexts (rationing)….

Barack Obama’s proposal is to subsidize public insurance that would “compete” with private insurance. By definition, subsidized insurance would undermine private insurance to some extent — somewhere between attracting people at the margin and entirely destroying the industry. It would depend on the extent of the subsidy….

One last thought: It’s interesting that we’ve become so fixated on a federal approach to this problem. Why not allow the 50 states to try 50 different experiments rather than betting everything on one grand, federal experiment that would be difficult if not impossible to reverse?

Relativists beware. Whether you like it or not, truth matters – even in the economy. That’s the core message of Pope Benedict XVI’s new social encyclical Caritas in Veritate.

For 2000 years, the Catholic Church has hammered home a trio of presently-unpopular ideas into the humus of human civilization: that there is truth; that it is not simply of the scientific variety; that it is knowable through faith and reason; and that it is not whatever you want or “feel” it to be. Throughout his entire life, Benedict XVI has underscored these themes, precisely because much of the world, including many Christians, has lost sight of their importance.

Perhaps Caritas in Veritate’s most important truth-claim about economic life is that the market economy cannot be based on just any value-system. Against all relativists on the left and the right, Benedict maintains that market economies must be underpinned by commitments to particular basic moral goods and a certain vision of the human person if it is to serve rather than undermine humanity’s common good: “The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly — not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred” (CV no.45)

“Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust,” the Pope writes, “the market cannot completely fulfill its proper economic function” (CV no. 35). This surely has been amply confirmed by the recent financial crisis. America’s subprime-mortgage market collapse was at least partly attributable to the fact that literally thousands of people lied on their mortgage application forms. Should we be surprised that mass violation of the moral prohibition against lying has devastating economic consequences? “The economic sphere”, the pope reminds us, “is neither ethically neutral, nor inherently inhuman and opposed to society. It is part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner” (CV no.36).

Contrary to the pre-encyclical hype of certain American commentators and the ever-unreliable British press, predictions of papal anathemas against “global capitalism” have – as usual – been found wanting. In economic terms, the pope describes as “erroneous” the tired notion that the developed countries’ wealth is predicated on poor nations’ poverty (CV no.35) that one hears customarily from the likes of Hugo Chavez and whatever’s left of the dwindling band of aging liberation theologians. That’s a pontifical body-blow to a central working assumption of many professional social justice “activists”.

Nor will they be happy with the pope’s concerns about the ways in which foreign aid can produce situations of dependency (CV no.58), not to mention Benedict’s strictures against protectionism (CV no.42) as well as his stress that no amount of structural change can possibly compensate for people freely choosing the good: “Integral human development presupposes the responsible freedom of the individual and of peoples: no structure can guarantee this development over and above human responsibility” (CV no.17).

Nor does Benedict regard the market as morally problematic in itself. “In and of itself,” the Pope states, “the market is not . . . the place where the strong subdue the weak. Society does not have to protect itself from the market, as if the development of the latter were ipso facto to entail the death of authentically human relations” (CV no.36). What matters, Benedict claims, is the moral culture in which markets exists.

At the heart of the economy are human persons. People whose minds are dominated by crassly hedonistic cultures will make crassly hedonistic economic choices. “Therefore”, Benedict comments, “it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals” (CV no.36).

The implications of truth for economic life do not, however, stop here. For Benedict, it is a lens through which to assess ideas such as “business ethics”, “ethical investing” and “corporate social responsibility.” The notion that investment and business choices have a moral dimension is hardly new. What matters for Benedict is the understanding of morality underlying these schemes. Merely labeling an investment scheme as “ethical”, Benedict notes, hardly tells us whether it is moral (CV no.45).

A second major truth underscored by Benedict is the indispensability of a strong civil society for both undergirding and limiting the market and the state. By this, he does not mean a plethora of government-funded NGOs, many of whom Benedict identifies as intent upon imposing some of the very worst aspects of Western lifestyle-libertarianism upon developing nations (CV no.28). Certainly, Benedict believes, there is a need to re-evaluate (CV no.24) how the state regulates different parts of the economy. Ultimately, however, Benedict stresses that the virtue of solidarity, he argues, is about people concretely loving their neighbour; it “cannot therefore be merely delegated to the State” (CV no.38). This is reminiscent of Alexis de Tocqueville’s attention to the manner in which the habit of free association both limits the size of government while also discouraging people from retreating into their own little bubbles.

The economist John Maynard Keynes is famous for many things, including the saying that “in the long run, we’re all dead.” The horizon of Benedict XVI’s perspective on economic life is rather different. The pope asks people to live their economic lives in the short, medium, and long-term as if living in the truth is eternally important, not to mention eternally relevant to their soul’s salvation.

That’s change we can all believe in.

Speaking to the Grass Roots

Speaking to the Grass Roots

This weekend, I had the pleasure of joining dozens of Michiganders in Grandville to protest big government and big spending. The Hudsonville TEA (Taxed Enough Already!) Party, a grassroots group of Americans concerned for the sake of liberty, put on the event immediately following the Grandville 4th of July Parade.

Commemorating America’s independence, the people at the rally were treated to a recitation of the Declaration of Independence, a lesson in the history of American liberty, and the reading of a letter from an auto dealer shut down as part of the government’s bailout of the big three carmakers. I spoke on behalf of the Acton Institute about the balance between virtue and limited government.

Virtue makes limited government possible. There is evil in the world and there is good that needs to be done. We have governments to make it possible for us to live together, and we do need the law to protect us from chaos, but we are able to live free of tyranny because virtue tells us to live up to our responsibilities.

Aristotle once said, “I have gained this by philosophy: to do without being commanded that which others do only from fear of the law.” Philosophia means the love of wisdom. When put into practice, this is virtue. Virtue lets us care for our families and neighbors, respect the wellbeing of other people, and live within our means without being forced to do so by the law.

Virtue is a potent force. The more that we are virtuous, the more we can be free. Limiting government from an institutional angle might be difficult for the time being due to politics. We can take actions now, though, that limit the need for government by doing good, avoiding evil, and encouraging others to do the same.

If we can do that, then America can see another 234 years of being known as the land of the free and the home of the brave, the just, the virtuous.

My commentary on the forthcoming social encyclical was published on National Review Online. Here’s the complete text:

On Tuesday, Pope Benedict XVI will release his first social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. The pre-release buzz from the Catholic Left on each of his two previous encyclicals has so far proven wrong each time, so the rule should be to wait and see what the pope will actually say.

Each time, with previous encyclicals, we have been told that the pope is preparing to lambaste capitalism and call for state measures to heavily regulate it with an eye to redistributing wealth, cleaning up the environment, controlling consumption, etc. Each time, the final text has demonstrated that the pope’s conversion to progressivist causes has been greatly exaggerated. Invariably, his arguments have been highly sophisticated and have defied easy political categorization.

In advance of Caritas in Veritate, Catholic “progressives” are working themselves into a frenzy of predictions, recommendations, and anathemas — and not one of them, to my knowledge, has seen even an early draft of the encyclical which has been two years in the making.

Will the document draw attention to the weaknesses of Western-style capitalist systems? One hopes so. We might expect the pope to call on market forces to be regulated by moral concerns, within a strong juridical framework, and an exogenous apparatus of standards to curb excesses.

But here is the operative question: In what sense would such a call be a blow against the idea of free economic institutions? The short answer is that it will not be.

There are few advocates of market economics who advocate a complete lack of regulation rightly understood. Every transaction in the marketplace is in fact regulated by contract law, reputation, industry standards, competition, certification and monitoring, and profit and loss systems that reward prudence and punish excess over the long term.

Do these need strengthening? Certainly, and it should be noted that a main force for weakening them is not the market as such, but partisan interventions in the market. (more…)