Ray Nothstine, Associate Editor at the Acton Institute, had his Acton Commentary, “Veterans First on Heath Care” republished by The Citizen, a newspaper in Fayetteville, Georgia. Nothstine explains in the article that the federal government needs to prove that it can provide adequate health care for 8 million veterans before we can trust them to provide health care reform for the entire United States. Nothstine points out flaws with medical system operated by the Veterans Administration. It is a timely piece especially among the constant health care reform debate that is occurring in the United States.
Today’s Wall Street Journal Europe carries an editorial titled “Jamais on Sunday” approving of the French government’s attempt to allow some businesses to open on Sunday:
Parliament is likely today to pass a bill that would scrap the 1906 law restricting Sunday work. The law’s original purpose was to keep Sundays sacred — France’s empty churches show how well that’s worked — and the Catholic Church remains a strong supporter. But it has become emblematic of the regulatory red tape strangling the economy. Some 180 exceptions have been made to the law. For instance, a store that sells sunglasses can open on Sunday because sunglasses are considered entertainment, while a store that sells eyeglasses must be closed.
This got me thinking about Pope Benedict’s call in n. 32 of Caritas in Veritate to “prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone” and also about this Foreign Policy piece on Europe’s new “lost generation”:
Unemployment among job seekers under 25 in France has risen more than 40 percent in the past year, while total unemployment rose by about 26 percent. A third of Britain’s unemployed are under 25. Youth unemployment is nudging 40 percent in Spain.
The Baltic states, whose bubble burst so dramatically last fall, have seen the greatest increases. In June 2008, between 8.9 and 11.9 percent of young people in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia were out of work. As of the last round of reported data, from March and April, those rates stand between 25 and 35.1 percent — about a threefold increase in less than a year.
The effects aren’t simply financial. One prominent British think-tanker recently warned, “If this situation persists, the risk may be of a new generation lacking the experience, qualifications, and self-belief to provide for themselves and their families.”
Moreover, youth unemployment, much more so than for older workers, carries dangerous social effects: social exclusion, depression, poorer health, social disruption, and higher incidences of crime, incarceration, and suicide. With every month a teenager is unemployed, for instance, his or her likelihood of being convicted of a crime increases.
“It’s hard to say whether a whole generation is ‘doomed,’” says Yale University political scientist David Cameron. “The cyclical component will probably start receding a bit in late 2010 or 2011. But we’ll have higher unemployment for a long time to come. Europe needs a growth rate of 2 to 3 percent a year, year after year, to bring the rate down substantially. I don’t think anyone sees that happening anytime soon, if ever.”
“The great benefit is that in a few years, when the Earth turns, there will be thousands fewer [young job-seekers],” says Blanchflower, the former British central banker. “But now, we’re just trying to get these economies moving. And unemployment, especially among young people, is a ticking time bomb.”
(HT: Real Clear World)
The Church’s position against Sunday work makes sense if people actually went to Church, just as it would be absurd for the Church to de-emphasize the great importance due to the Lord’s Day. But with rising unemployment among the youth and the degree of secularization that has already taken place, does it still make any sense?
I remember my graduate school days in Toronto when I first saw bumper stickers that read “Keep Sundays Free for Family and Friends.” I noted the noble sentiments but also the significant absence of God from the Sabbath.
So how has the introduction of Sunday business affected our understanding of Sunday worship? Should the Church argue against market deregulation that would help young people find work and begin their adulthood? Is it impossible to combine Sunday work with Sunday worship? Is it the case that once Sunday is treated like any other day of the week, the Church has already admitted defeat?
Energy has been a hot topic not just in the United States but throughout the world. From cap-and-trade legislation to the talks that occurred at the G8 Summit, energy is making headlines everywhere. Caritas in Veritate also addresses the issue of energy; however, it is in a different light from that which is occurring in the politics.
In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict calls for us to be more conscious of our use of energy, and for larger, more developed countries to not hoard all of the energy. Furthermore, Pope Benedict calls for the international community to be more conscious of its use of non-renewable energy and to begin to regulate the use of non-renewable. His concern is that poor countries will not be able to gain access to energy resources, especially non-renewable energy.
The United States is the largest energy producer, but it is also the largest energy consumer. In fact, according to the Energy Information Administration, in 2006 the United States produced 71.054 quadrillion Btu and consumed 99.889 quadrillion Btu. These figures point out a large difference between the amount of energy produced and consumed by the United States. At face value these figures make the United States look like an over-consumer of energy and that the Pope’s message on energy would strike an enormous note with the United States.
However, looking beyond these numbers and what they consist of, the United States is not the mass over-consumer that these numbers make it look like. In 2006, the United States issued 89,823 patents (more patents were issued by the United States alone than the by the rest of the countries combined). The number of patents issued in the United States can be correlated into the manufacturing that occurs in the United States. Since the United States issued 89,823 patents in 2006 it can be expected that a large number of new products were manufactured in the United States or developed in the United States and manufactured abroad. As a result, in order to manufacture and develop this large amount of new products, in addition to the manufacturing that was already occurring, the United States used a large amount of energy.
The Energy Information Administration also keeps records on the amount of energy used by manufacturers in the United States. Of the 99.889 quadrillion Btu consumed by the United States in 2006, 21,046 trillion Btu was consumed by manufactures in the United States. Since the United States manufactures a large number of goods it is able to export these goods across the world. According to the United States Census, 1,451,685 goods and services were exported by the United States in 2006. Compared to 2005, this number was actually up by 12.7 percent.
While the United States uses a large amount of energy it is able to manufacture goods that are exported to other countries through trade. As a result, countries that do not have the technology, finances, or capital to increase their energy usage to manufacture more goods benefit from the United States. The United States, who can afford to purchase energy to manufacture goods and services, can send its goods and services to the poor countries that do not use a large amount of energy and do not have the means to manufacture the goods that can be produced in the United States. The trade the United States engages in encourages poor countries to develop so they can export even more of their goods to the United States.
However, just because the United States is able to provide goods and services to countries that do not have the means to produce such commodities, does not mean the United States is exempt from conserving energy. We are all called for to be stewards of Earth. As Pope Benedict states in Caritas in Veritate, “At the same time we must recognize our grave duty to hand the earth on to future generations in such a condition that they too can worthily inhabit it and continue to cultivate it.” As Christians, we still need to be consciousness of our use of energy to make sure our children will be given an Earth that has the same resources we are blessed to have. Furthermore, we also need to be conscious of the condition of the poor and not exploit energy and natural resources. Simply because we, as citizens of the United States, have the financial means that allow us to utilize and have access to energy and natural resources does not mean the same benefits are procured by those less fortunate.
In an earlier post, I already set out my own attitude of humility before the pope’s encyclical. I recognize the respect due both his office and his tremendous personal learning. There is no question that what the pope has said about the nature of truth is stupendously good.
In that post, I expressed a degree of unease with some of the economic thought, at least as I perceived it, in the encyclical. Looking it over again, here are the parts (more than any others) that cause me the most trouble:
In section 32:
The dignity of the individual and the demands of justice require, particularly today, that economic choices do not cause disparities in wealth to increase in an excessive and morally unacceptable manner and that we continue to prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone (italics original to the document).
And then just a little further:
Lowering the level of protection accorded to the rights of workers, or abandoning mechanisms of wealth distribution in order to increase the country’s international competitiveness, hinder the achievement of lasting development.
Now, when I read those parts of the document, I recognize a type of thinking about the economy that I would typically associate with western Europe and pre-Thatcherite Britain. At least, it is possible to interpret the document in that fashion. When I think about prioritizing “the goal of access to steady employment for everyone” I contemplate the kind of worker security initiatives that slowly bankrupted General Motors or government programs that subsidize anti-productive schemes for workers as a class.
I may be guilty of reading too much into the words I’ve selected because I know the pope is a western European accustomed to exactly the brand of economics which gives rise to my concern.
The great question, of course, is what does the pope mean when he says we must provide access to steady employment? Does he mean that we should educate citizens and provide a culture that gives individuals initiative and the desire to be productive so they will be worth employing? Or does he mean that we should attempt great governmental schemes of guaranteed employment for working age people? Or does he mean both? Or something else entirely? I’m not sure we can know because the pope says the church does not offer technical solutions.
And when he writes about protecting the rights of workers and retaining mechanisms of wealth redistribution it is difficult to imagine he is referring to any action of the free market. But again, it is difficult to say because he is purposefully vague. What I keep thinking is that some of those mechanisms could be exactly the things preventing a nation from attaining greater prosperity. Indeed, that very question is part of why the work of the Acton Institute is important, to make sure that the faithful (particularly seminarians and clergymen) do not assume that collectivist approaches are necessarily better for people.
I recently spoke with journalist Antonio Gaspari of the the Zenit news agency about Caritas in Veritate. Here’s the interview that Zenit published:
Kishore Jayabalan: Development Involves “Breathing Space”
ROME, JULY 10, 2009 (Zenit.org).- An Acton Institute director is explaining the importance of “Caritas in Veritate” for India and China, and is pointing out the innovative ideas of Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical.
Kishore Jayabalan is the director of the Acton Institute’s Rome office. He is a former analyst for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, where he dealt with environmental and disarmament issues and served as a desk officer for English-speaking countries.
In this interview with ZENIT, he spoke about Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical, which was released to the public Tuesday.
ZENIT: What is your overall opinion of the encyclical “Caritas in Veritate?”
Jayabalan: My very first reaction was that it is long and not an easy document to read quickly and summarize. But as I have been reading and re-reading it, I am starting to appreciate its vast scope and significance.
The moral and ethical basis for the market economy is very often neglected.
Even its supporters tend to make utilitarian arguments in favor of the market, while opponents tend to blame the free exchange of goods and services for all kinds of cultural phenomena which have little to do with economics itself.
When things are going well and everyone is making money, no one wants to hear about greed and materialism. But once the bubble bursts, everyone seems to become a moralist and a prophet with amazing hindsight.
This is what Benedict has referred to in other places as “cheap moralism,” one which takes no account of the technical workings of the economy but reminds us of the need to make ethics more integral to our everyday lives. So in this encyclical, the pope realizes it makes no sense to issue condemnations that a child can make. (more…)
At the time of his election in April 2005, Pope Benedict XVI was widely perceived to be a “conservative” in our modern political parlance. It should not surprise, then, that many commentators have expressed either shock or joy, depending on their own affiliations, with last Tuesday’s publication of his encyclical letter Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), the first extended statement on social and economic issues of his pontificate.
Conservatives are dismayed by his calls for increased foreign aid, the redistribution of wealth, and a United Nations with “real teeth”. Liberals are wondering why the pope had to ruin such lovely sentiments by bringing up the evils of abortion, euthanasia, and birth control. Prominent voices on both sides think the pope is hopelessly naïve and unrealistic. Reading Charity in Truth for partisan purposes can yield moments of agony and ecstasy for left and right alike.
Neither side, however, seems ready to take Benedict’s theology – his own field of expertise – seriously. Part of this is a result of our habitual, liberal democratic tendency to separate Church and State and not let theological arguments influence our politics. This tendency invariably blinds us to the pope’s combination of respect for life with the demands of social justice.
Such a synthesis is not easy nor is it likely to satisfy partisans. It’s hard enough to imagine an international authority that can command universal support – not even the pope has that within his own Church. In many ways our current systems of democratic governance are more modest because they do not assume any such unanimity, theological or otherwise. But the real question is whether a society built solely on competing interests will ultimately be worth the trouble. Will it reflect Benedict’s insistent demands for human dignity? Experience keeps telling us something more is clearly needed.
Our political categories of left and right originate from the French Revolution, which infamously saw the Catholic Church as its great enemy. Which makes it all the more remarkable that the modern social teachings of the papacy may provide the soundest moral defense of liberté, égalité et fraternité in today’s world. (more…)
Joan Lewis, EWTN’s Rome bureau chief, covered Pope Benedict XVI’s general audience address on Wednesday, July 8 , during which the pontiff publicly commented on his landmark social encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” the day after it was officially released by the Vatican. Below is a summary of Benedict’s address to visitors in Rome, including Lewis’s own translation.
Yesterday, the Vatican released Pope Benedict’s third encyclical, “Caritas in veritate,” along with an official summary of the 144-page document that has six chapters and a conclusion. In addition, there was a very worthwhile two-hour press conference with summaries of the document’s salient points, as well as a Q&A session between reporters and Cardinals Martino and Cordes, Archbishop Crepaldi and Prof. Stefano Zampagni.
But surely the best summary of Pope Benedict’s just-released encyclical is the one he himself gave at today’s general audience, held in the Paul VI Hall and highlighting the moral criteria that must underpin economic choices.
In only 1,300 words (the encyclical has 30,466), the Pope explained the document’s contents and his intention in writing it. He began by explaining that Caritas in veritate was inspired by a passage from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians where “the Apostle speaks of acting according to the truth in love: ‘Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ’.” Thus, said Benedict, “charity in truth is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity. For this reason, the entire social doctrine of the Church revolves around the principle ‘Caritas in veritate’. Only with charity, illuminated by reason and by faith, is it possible to pursue development goals that possess more human and humanizing values.”
As Congress continues to hash out what will likely be more or less bad health care reform legislation, it is worth considering what health care providers themselves can do to fix the system.
One outstanding case study is The Nun and the Bureaucrat: How They Found an Unlikely Cure for America’s Sick Hospitals. The book is a compilation of quotations, factoids, and anecdotes from employees and administrators of two hospital systems, Catholic SSM Health Care in St. Louis and Pittsburgh’s Regional Health Care Initiative. It tells the story of the implementation of “systems thinking” at these institutions. In short, the health systems’ executives perceived serious inefficiencies and dysfunctions in their hospitals (with, sometimes, life or death consequences) and determined to borrow a method successfully used in other business enterprises and apply it to the medical field.
Individual hospital outcomes reported include:
–85 percent reduction in hospital acquired infections (often fatal and each entailing costs of $30,000-90,000).
–medication error rate reduction from .16 per thousand dosages to .01 per thousand.
–reduction of acute diabetic complications from 13.5 percent to 5 percent.
Besides better patient outcomes and cost-saving, hospital staff reported higher levels of morale and satisfaction in their work.
In this particular case, conscientious and innovative CEOs initiated change. What might drive innovation and improvement more broadly in the health care sector is placing both control and responsibility squarely in the hands of “consumers” (patients), spurring competition and setting up the right framework of incentives. Any legislation that fails to recognize this connection will fail to move us toward a health care system that more effectively serves its intended purpose.
Today marks the quincentenary of John Calvin’s birth. Over at the First Things site, I take the occasion to pay special attention to Calvin’s concern for articulating the antiquity, and therefore the catholicity, of the Reformation.
Among the factors that converts from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism very often cite as major influences on their move is the novelty of the former compared with the antiquity of the latter. This is, undoubtedly, an important point that ought to be addressed by concerned Protestants.
But I argue, in continuity with the Reformers, I think, that this concern is best answered in the first place not by discounting the value or the importance of antiquity, but rather by doing justice to the claims of the Reformation itself to representing the ancient and catholic faith.
Sometimes the Reformation is summed up by reference to the five “solas,” and Calvin is associated with the saying, “Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere.” (“I offer my heart to you, Lord, promptly and sincerely.”)
But the motto of the Reformers might just as well have been (as a colleague has put it), “Expellete nova, impellete vetera!” (“Out with the new, in with the old!”)
My commentary on the new social encyclical appeared in today’s Wall Street Journal. Here is the full text:
In his much anticipated third encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth), Pope Benedict XVI does not focus on specific systems of economics — he is not attempting to shore up anyone’s political agenda. He is rather concerned with morality and the theological foundation of culture. The context is of course a global economic crisis — a crisis that’s taken place in a moral vacuum, where the love of truth has been abandoned in favor of a crude materialism. The pope urges that this crisis become “an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future.”
Yet his encyclical contains no talk of seeking a third way between markets and socialism. Words like greed and capitalism make no appearance here, despite press headlines following the publication of the encyclical earlier this week. People seeking a blueprint for the political restructuring of the world economy won’t find it here. But if they look to this document as a means for the moral reconstruction of the world’s cultures and societies, which in turn influence economic events, they will find much to reflect upon.
Caritas in Veritate is an eloquent restatement of old truths casually dismissed in modern times. The pope is pointing to a path neglected in all the talk of economic stimulus, namely a global embrace of truth-filled charity.
Benedict rightly attributes the crisis itself to “badly managed and largely speculative financial dealing.” But he resists the current fashion of blaming all existing world problems on the market economy. “The Church,” he writes, “has always held that economic action is not to be regarded as something opposed to society.” Further: “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.”
The market is rather shaped by culture. “Economy and finance . . . can be used badly when those at the helm are motivated by purely selfish ends. Instruments that are good in themselves can thereby be transformed into harmful ones. But it is man’s darkened reason that produces these consequences, not the instrument per se. Therefore it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility.” (more…)