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Vatican knows more about economics than closeted American right-wingers

October 27, 2011

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the collective mouth-foaming among the American Catholic right pertaining to the new Vatican document on financial reform. They basically came up with all sorts of excuses to ignore, mock, or insult the document because it didn’t fit with their cozy American way of looking at the world. The call for a world authority with regulatory powers does not sit well with an American exceptionalist nationalism. The call for more actions to reduce inequality and rein in the financial sector doesn’t sit well with American laissez-faire individualism. But there is another point I missed: the document’s economic analysis does not sit well with the closed bubble inhabited by the American right.

When we get down to details, this document is far closer to the global economic consensus than anything I’ve read from the right-wing Catholic armchair spinners, whose arguments give off a strong whiff of Fox News sloganeering. For sure, nobody in the global policy debate is talking about a world central bank. And yes, some of the writing in the document is not as coherent as I would like, and there are valid arguments against some of the proposals. But you do not seen these arguments being made by the Catholic right.

To understand why, we need to understand the huge gulf between the causes of the crisis as understood by most of the world (including the vast majority of the economics profession) and the causes of the crisis as understood by the American right-wing bubble. The truth is rather simple. The crisis was caused by too much private sector debt and leverage, mainly by the financial sector. It was caused by years of weakening regulation and poor supervision, which was caused in part by the increasing political dominance of the financial sector. It was caused by complicated financial engineering that pushed risk through the rooftops, making the fall much greater than it should have been. It was not so much caused by bad household lending as the way the financial sector dramatically magnified the risk in that lending. And rising inequality the years before the crisis was most likely one of the drivers of the crisis.

But the American right cannot possibly accept that private sector corporations are at fault. So the crisis was caused by poor people borrowing too much, because Fannie and Freddie gave them dodgy loans on orders from top Democrats (does it need repeating that Fannie and Freddie were very marginal players in the subprime game?). And the crisis is also somehow due to government spending, although they can never really explain how that works.

Let me take a couple of specific points made by the Vatican-bashers. Of course, Thomas Peters never fails to deliver, bringing together a veritable circus of silly arguments!

First, the call for a financial transactions tax (FTT). Peters links to somebody who claims that the person who advised the Vatican on this: “formed a lobby to request the EU to levy crazy taxes on financial transactions which will destroy whatever is left of available capitals, especially for small businesses and small investors, with a trickle-down effect that will further damage an economy brought to collapse by socialist greed for power, money and control”.

If you have never heard of the FTT, this might sound like a lousy idea. But in fact, it is being pushed heavily by countries like France and Germany. It is heavily supported by the International Trade Union Confederation and civil society. The idea is to throw some sand in the wheels of the financial sector, to make it less risky and less dangerous. Reining in the financial sector is a goal shared by global policymakers. There are many ways to do this. You can have bigger capital ratios. You can have capital surcharges on the big banks. You can break up the big banks. You can restore divisions between retail and investment banks. You can banning proprietary trading.  You can  bring shadow banking into the open. You can financial activities (wages and profits).  And you can tax financial transactions (the FTT). Or you can do some or all of the above. There are plenty of good debates on the pros and cons of each proposal.

So the FTT is well within the mainstream. It has a lot of support. Of course, there are also good arguments against the FTT. It has opponents, and they make some good points. For example, it is quite possible that the tax gets borne by the customers of the institutions rather than the owners of the institutions. But you will not see these arguments coming from the American right. It’s like when Obama talks about the nitty-gritties of healthcare reform and the Republicans respond by screaming “socialism! death panels”.

Second, the fetish with public debt. I’ve seen this over and over. A guy called Phil Lawlor boldly claims that “perhaps the Vatican might learn a few lessons from economic analysts”. And one thing it should learn? “That the world’s financial system is currently endangered because of the soaring level of government debt”.  Or as Sean Dailey of Crisis puts it: “the Note makes no mention of ruinous deficit spending by government”.

Sorry, but this dangerous nonsense. The soaring public debt is a consequence, not a cause, of the crisis. Debt shot up everywhere because revenue collapsed, and because spending on social safety nets increased. The discretionary spending component was actually quite small in most countries.

In other words, the crisis arose from private debt, not public debt. In only one country did public debt itself provoke a crisis – Greece. That’s it. In other countries like Ireland, it was the government taking on private sector debt that finally broke the governnment bank.

And the overwhelming consensus is that governments did the right thing by not fighting this increase in public debt. Why? Because when private demand fell, the increase in public demand (i.e the deficit) protected us from a severe recession. You often hear people talking about not raising taxes in a recession. But the real point is that you don’t cut deficits in a recession. That applies even more to cutting spending than raising taxes, as spending has a bigger effect on the economy than taxes. You won’t hear this from our friends on the right.

What is the risk of rising deficits? Quite simple. The fear is that people will stop lending to you, or demand really high interest rates to do so. This is not pretty. Look at Greece. But for most of the world, we are nowhere close to this. In fact, US interests rates are at an all-time low!

So what you mainstream economists say? They say that if you have the space, you should put in plans to cut your debt, but not to rush for the exit today, because you will kill the recovery. The American idea of slashing spending dramatically while the recovery is still feeble is a dangerous position.

Third, recapitalizing banks. Sean Dailey again mocks the Vatican’s call for using public finds to recapitalize the banks, including it in what he calls “more taxes, and more spending, including bank bailouts”. But yet again, this is just the Fox Newsification of economic analysis! In fact, bank recapitalization was a key part of the recent European agreement to overcome the crisis. Why? Because banks are exposed to Greek debt. And so they can lend less. And so they need more capital. Everybody understands this, except the sloganeers.

Fourth, regulatory agencies are useless/ corrupt etc. Again, this is Phil Lawlor. This is the silliest and most self-serving argument of all. Yes, with tougher regulation and supervision, we could have avoided the problems in the financial sector that led to the crisis. On that we all agree. But because they did a bad job, we should give up and let the market take care of it? Huh? Let’s look at history. One of the most stable and prosperous periods in modern times was precisely that period when banks were most heavily regulated (and when taxes were much higher, for that matter). Things started to go awry in the early 1980s with the zeal for deregulation, with the cultural shift toward greater individualism, with the increasing belief that maximizing shareholder value is all that business should worry about. And one of the reasons regulators and supervisors did so poorly was because politicians leaned heavily on them, took away their funding, or stripped them of their powers. Surely the answer is much tougher and tighter regulation.

In sum, I find it infuriating that people who know next to nothing about economics lecture the Vatican for knowing next to nothing about economics, when in fact, many of the specific proposals that come from the Vatican (as opposed to the broad calls for a world authority) are far more aligned with mainstream thinking.

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41 Comments
  1. October 27, 2011 12:33 pm

    Hear, hear, MM! I have laughed a great deal with the “Vatican knows nothing about economics and should listen to economists” response from some quarters. These are the same people who said economists should listen to the USCCB in regards to Obama’s health care reform, when economists didn’t find it supporting abortion.

    In other words, they call people to listen to economists similarly to the way they call people to support the Vatican or the USCCB: listen to those who agree with their political desires, nothing else.

    Of course, the issue is that one should listen to the Vatican and the USCCB and see the principles being established, see how their prudential suggestions follow those principles, and then one can and should discuss the prudence while working together with the Church on the principles. What we see is a dismissal of principles, nothing but that.

  2. Kurt permalink
    October 27, 2011 12:50 pm

    I would note that while I think it should be more vigorous, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) causes $2 to be returned to cheated investors for every $1 of the agency’s budget.

  3. Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
    October 27, 2011 12:55 pm

    Here, here, Sir Minion, indeed! The point contained in your very title is a slam dunk. That is because even with the Vatican’s complex and variable history, one thing is for sure. It is old and smart. The libertarian Catholic position is an abortion concocted by a few idolaters of the god known as Finnis, and is no more that a decade or two old,

  4. Gordie permalink
    October 27, 2011 1:18 pm

    Question:

    Does the Vatican have professional economists?

    I know they have many highly credited scientists so the Vacitan can speak to the varied scientific issues of the day(i.e. stem-cell research).

    It seems that economics has come to the forefront of the many moral issues of the day and it makes sense to have economists on staff to sift through all the theories and make sense of them.

    • Kurt permalink
      October 27, 2011 3:17 pm

      Does the Vatican have professional economists?

      Yes. The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. It is a very well respected group.

  5. Ronald King permalink
    October 27, 2011 1:55 pm

    I know nothing about economics. What I do observe is that we have a one world economic system currently operating built on the foundation of greed and power. What the Vatican seems to be proposing is a system that is built on the value of human dignity. That is a pro-life position and is unlike the current system which is built on the “culture of death”.
    MM, that was most excellent.

  6. October 27, 2011 2:31 pm

    “In sum, I find it infuriating that people who know next to nothing about economics lecture the Vatican for knowing next to nothing about economics…”

    Ahh…but this is the downside of blogs, isn’t it? The less they know, the less they know it; they louder they are, the more convincing they sound.

  7. Darwin permalink
    October 27, 2011 2:46 pm

    Obviously, if you compare the economic claims of those on the right who don’t know much about economics with the statements of those on the left who are professional policy wonks, then obviously those on the left will sound more one sided. This would be like me comparing economic claims made by the OWS folks with the analysis of prefessional economists and policy wonks on the right.

    Shooting fish in a barrel may be satisfying to those who like to see dead fish, but it’s not exactly a contest.

    That said, you significantly misrepresent in this post what the Note says about the origins of the financial crisis. This seems a significant problem when you’re accusing other people of behind ignorant about the document. The document primarily blames easy money and easy credit for the crisis:

    In monetary and financial markets, however, the dynamics are quite different. In recent decades, it was the banks that extended credit, which generated money, which in turn sought a further expansion of credit. In this way, the economic system was driven towards an inflationary spiral that inevitably encountered a limit in the risk that credit institutions could accept. They faced the ultimate danger of bankruptcy, with negative consequences for the entire economic and financial system.

    The speculative bubble in real estate and the recent financial crisis have the very same origin in the excessive amount of money and the plethora of financial instruments globally.

    It then places the blame on a “liberalist approach” (in this case, that would be classical liberalism: i.e. US conservatism) when dealing with Lehman Brothers for the inciting incident:

    A liberalist approach, unsympathetic towards public intervention in the markets, chose to allow an important international financial institution to fall into bankruptcy, on the assumption that this would contain the crisis and its effects. Unfortunately, this spawned a widespread lack of confidence and a sudden change in attitudes.

    I don’t entirely agree with these assessments myself, though I’d agree that they’re mainstream and mostly accurate economics. However, just because I (like you) have had my own favorite explanations for a while does not mean it’s appropriate to mischaracterize what the document actually says.

    Further, before you knock rightists for budget deficit paranoia you might note that one of the purposes the document states for the world financial Authority is to encourage countries to avoid persistant budget deficits:

    Among the ways it should do this is by creating the socio-economic, political and legal conditions essential for the existence of markets that are efficient and efficacious because they are not over-protected by paternalistic national policies and not weakened by systematic deficits in public finances and of the gross national products – indeed, such policies and deficits actually hamper the markets themselves in operating in a world context as open and competitive institutions.

    I go into these as well as all of the other observations and policy proposals in the document in a detailed post over at TAC:

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2011/10/26/notes-on-the-vatican-statement-on-global-financial-reform/

    I certainly don’t expect you to agree with me on these sorts of issues, but it seems like it’s at least worth providing your readers with a clear understanding of what the document actually says, rather than repeating the standard talking points. There are enough people already distoring the meaning of the document from one policy perspective or another.

    • October 27, 2011 4:36 pm

      Is this a long way of saying you agree with me, that the economic views are mainstream?

      And yes, avoiding persistent budget deficits is mainstream – you should run down deficits in good times and let them run up in bad times.

      Here is my question: why is the economics debate on the American right so far removed from the mainstream, and getting wackier by the day?

      • Darwin permalink
        October 28, 2011 10:10 am

        Further, the statements in the Note would seem fairly consistent with disagreeing with the entire Keynsian stimulus idea, as the Vatican bank chief did in L’Osservatore Romano earlier this year:

        http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vatican-bank-chief-issues-warning-about-us-european-economic-policies/

        I think you, at least, would consider this non-mainstream — and actually it would be much more in line with a lot that right leaning populists say. Certainly, he criticizes easy money and easy credit there in a way that would be consistent with the Note.

        As BA notes, I think the idea of having a true World Central Bank (much less a world currency) is actually quite non-mainstream as a goal for any point in the near future. But you seem to already agree on that, and goodness knows the Note’s description is rather vague and suggests that this Authority would start out with only some countries and act on a voluntary rather and forceful basis. (Of course, if you’re willing to grant that the World Central Bank idea is unrealistic for the near future, you’ve dismissed most of what’s concerning people on the right and don’t have so much left to criticize them on.)

    • Kurt permalink
      October 28, 2011 9:34 am

      Obviously, if you compare the economic claims of those on the right who don’t know much about economics with the statements of those on the left who are professional policy wonks, then obviously those on the left will sound more one sided. This would be like me comparing economic claims made by the OWS folks with the analysis of prefessional economists and policy wonks on the right.

      Very true. And I appreciate the commentary you and Blackadder have provided here. While I don’t agree with all of it, both of you make intelligent responses.

      I’ve long considered the two of you to be thoughtful conservatives. And in principle, I think we should avoid putting up the writings of those who are not legitimate conservative thinkers as representing conservative opinion. What would be helpful is for the both of you to aid us in indentifying those conservatives who are not thoughtful on economic matters. I take it young Peters, Fr. Z and the others mentioned earlier don’t meet you test, correct?

      P.S. Michael Moore is an ass. Arianna Huffington is an air-head socialite. Call to Action contributes little of value to Catholic thought.

      • Darwin permalink
        October 28, 2011 10:58 am

        Kurt,

        Thanks for the kind words.

        I’m not sure what the utility would be of providing a list of people who I don’t consider serious on economics, since there’s a fairly short list of people that I typically read specifically for that topic. There are many other people who I don’t consider stupid or wicked, but who I just don’t expect to have terribly deep insights on the topic.

        FWIW, the right leaning economics writers I typically follow are:

        -Megan McArdle at The Atlantic
        -Greg Mankiw on his blog at his NY Times columns
        -Russ Roberts’ weekly hour-long interviews with (mostly) economists on EconTalk (and his writing on Cafe Hayek)
        -Some of the folks at EconLog

        I don’t make any particular representation that this is the best list, and none to my knowledge are Catholic. It’s just who I happen to read and find insightful. (I also read some left leaning folks, but I assume you have sources there.)

    • Darwin permalink
      October 28, 2011 9:52 am

      I don’t believe that the populist economic debate on the right is really any more removed from reality than the populist economic debate on the left: both are loony, just in different ways.

      However, you didn’t address my point, which is you that you misrepresented the Note’s account of the origins of the crisis. It tells an Austrian story in which the crisis had its origins in easy money and easy credit. You’re telling a regulatory story in which deregulation was the cause. One could posit that they’re not directly contradictory, it could be that there was deregulation as well as easy credit and easy money — but what you’re presenting as the account given by the note is not what the note says.

      I suppose one can debate whether the idea of not running “persistent deficits” is more of a right or a left orthodoxy. Certainly, it is currently the left which has been advocating adding massive long term spending programs which have increased the long term structural deficit — though the deficit does usually have the caginess to lie about it via accounting tricks. The right, for its part, has been advocating tax decreases that would be likely to increase the structural deficit, though given their desire to cut programs (frustrated by the left) that’s not necessarily as clear cut.

      You can say that the Note is right on this only if you insist that Obama has been either stupid or dishonest in his budget priorities every since his initial campaign. If you want to say that, I’ll agree!

      • October 28, 2011 10:39 am

        See my response to Blackadder – I do not see it Austrian. For a start, the modern obsession with “Austrian economics” is a peculiarity of the American right. It is saying simply that the crisis was caused by too much liquidity in an absence of any directing principle. There is NO contradiction between the credit and regulatory stories.

        As for yoru deficit point, sorry, but this is wilful ignorance. Look at the US. The long-term structural deficit was pushed up in the Bush administration by $3-4 billion, with nothig paid for, especially on wars and tax cuts. Everything Obama did, and everything the “left” supports is wilth a view to longer-term sustainability. For example, the Affordabel Care Act does indeed “bend the curve” with health care costs. Whether you think it does enough is another story, but repealing it would hurt the deficit hard.

        No, Republicans are less interested in the deficit that its composition – they want the rich to win and the poor to lose.

      • Darwin permalink
        October 29, 2011 10:06 am

        I agree that there’s no contradiction between the regulatory and easy money/easy credit stories — it’s just that the Note doesn’t actually tell the regulatory story.

        And, indeed, it strikes me that one of the issues here is that document is general enough it could be seen, by those who are convinced that the Church’s mind is the same as their mind, as supporting all sorts of things. I’ve already noticed a couple of gold bug distributists realizing that the language of the document is quite compatible with holding that the big problem is that the world needs to go back on the gold standard.

        It’s true that Austrian economics have become a bugbear of the right (and not, to my mind, picking up on its more incisive elements: I don’t think Austrian business cycle theory appears to be hugely useful, but its understanding of emergent order is) but on the other hand: Keynsianism arguably has an excessive amount of reverence in the US as compared to the rest of the world as well. There’s a desire for purity of form in the US that makes more ideological formulations desireable.

        On the deficit point: The willful ignorance (or perhaps just ignorance) would seem to be on the other side. Keep in mind:

        - The majority of the Bush tax cuts are now the Obama tax cuts. Obama has repeatedly insisted that he wants to keep the “middle class” portion of the Bush tax cuts, which (contrary to the distortions normally put forward by the Left) is actually the more “expensive” section of the cuts. It has become a major Democratic plank that taxes will not be raised on the middle class. Given their spending priorities, this means a long term budget deficit.

        - The deficit savings from the Affordable Care Act were mostly illusory, and based on the CBO approach of scoring the next ten years. For instance, fully half of the alleged deficit reduction from ObamaCare is already gone as a result of the Obama Administration admitting that the CLASS legislation (for long term care insurance) was totally unworkable as written in the legislation. This was supposed to provide $70B of deficit reduction because within the scoring window it would take in premiums but not pay out many benefits. The problem was that in the long term the premiums didn’t even come close to covering the expected cost of the benefits. It was, in fact, a budget killer, not a deficit reducer. So with the budget savings already down to half as projected, one has to ask: was the rest as illusory as this?

        I’ll agree that Repubs have been idiotic spend thrifts of late, and that their tax proposals are at times irresponsible. But the idea that the Dems are the adults in the room is laughable There are no adults in the room. And given that, it’s the folks who want a huge cradle to grave social democratic state (yet don’t want to have any kids to keep the tax base growing) who end up being the party likely to turn us into a Greece.

  8. October 27, 2011 3:49 pm

    I have three criticisms of the Justice and Peace document which hopefully will live up to MM’s exacting standards:

    1) Much of the criticism I’ve seen has centered on the document’s call for a world central bank. This is not a mainstream view among economists, and as recent events in Europe demonstrate, it would be a horrible idea. I assume MM agrees with me on this, though if I’m wrong I’d love to hear his defense.

    2) In terms of bank recapitalization, I would point to the contrast between Ireland and Iceland. Ireland responded to the 2008 crisis by attempting to recapitalize its banks; Iceland did not. Iceland is now in recovery whereas Ireland is facing years of austerity to pay for its crippling debt burden. I assume that MM agrees with me that Iceland did the right thing in choosing not to recapitalize, while Ireland made a grave mistake in choosing to do so (if I’m wrong, then by all means correct me). Yet the document suggests the reverse. I would love to hear MM’s comment on this.

    3) Finally, as I noted to MM privately earlier this week, parts of the document’s explanation of the origin of the financial crisis seem to endorse the basic framework of the Austrian Theory of the Business Cycle, which attributes economic booms and busts to credit expansion by central banks. For example, the document states:

    “In recent decades, it was the banks that extended credit, which generated money, which in turn sought a further expansion of credit. In this way, the economic system was driven towards an inflationary spiral that inevitably encountered a limit in the risk that credit institutions could accept. They faced the ultimate danger of bankruptcy, with negative consequences for the entire economic and financial system . . . The speculative bubble in real estate and the recent financial crisis have the very same origin in the excessive amount of money and the plethora of financial instruments globally.”

    The Austrian Theory of the Business Cycle is decidedly not a mainstream economic view. Indeed, it tends to be associated more with libertarians such as Ron Paul. I asked MM what he thought about this, but never received a reply (which is quite alright; he is a busy man). Since he is now mounting a substantive defense of the document, however, I wonder if he might comment on this feature of it.

    • October 27, 2011 4:33 pm

      Fair enough, you are asking serious question, so let me try serious answers.

      (1) I would like to envision a world with a global central bank and a global currency. But that is for the distant future. It makes no sense right now. On the other hand, I would support, say, a beefed up Financial Stability Board that could regulate financial institutions across borders.

      (2) I don’t think this is right. What Iceland did was wipe out the bank’s bondholders. Ireland did not, and took all the debt onto the government balance sheet. I think Iceland made the right choice – it freed the banks of debt, and did not force the taxpayer to pay for the mistakes of (rich) investors. Recapitalization is different. As far as I know, Iceland recapitalized its new banks shorn of the bad debts. All healthy banks needs healthy doses of capital.

      (3) I don’t see this as Austrian, although I do accept that is unclear. I think it is simply saying that there was an asset boom in which risk was magnified, threatening financial stability.

    • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
      October 27, 2011 7:28 pm

      Oh, Austria! Somehow I knew Ludwig von Mises would raise his head here eventually. Or Ludwig von Miserable as I like to call him. Ironically, there are at least good insights (separable, not systematic) from libertarian analysis available. But they get swallowed by the hero worship of people like von Mises.

  9. Sean O permalink
    October 27, 2011 4:25 pm

    The two best selling books in the US are the Bible and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. It says something about the schizophrenic nature of our culture. We were told that you cannot serve two masters yet many on the right think they can accommodate God & Mammon.

    If you judge a culture by it’s deeds, it’s focus, it’s reality, it’s fair to say mammon gets more service than God. We are a Mammon centered economy and culture.

  10. October 27, 2011 6:36 pm

    “Closeted” Is probably true in more ways than one for these right-wing types…

    In other news: Social Credit! Read the first 6 of the 10 Simple Lessons!

  11. Pinky permalink
    October 28, 2011 9:50 am

    I can’t speak to the thinking of the average right-wing blogger. I think (I hope) that I’m open to the wisdom of a Pontifical Council. I’m having a problem understanding the document, though. They seem to conflate the causes of the developing world’s debt crises of the 1980′s with those of the 2008 crisis in the developed world. I just don’t think that’s factually correct unless you define the causes so broadly as to be meaningless. That’s especially problematic because the distinction between rich and poor countries is made so strongly in the rest of the document. I also think that debt crises are more common historically and more natural than the document implies.

    As for the most striking policy prescription, I’ll wrestle with that idea on my own time. It’s not my inclination to support a supranational authority, but the document actually talks about cooperative agreements as a starting point, and that’s certainly reasonable.

    The reaction to this document does trouble me from both the “right” and “left” (I guess it’s ok to use that terminology in this article). The reaction from the right doesn’t surprise me. But from the left, there’s a lot more excitement about the right’s reaction to the document than to the document itself. That seems spiteful.

  12. October 28, 2011 11:06 am

    Boy does the Vatican document ever misrepresent the story of Babel, though.

    The document says, “Through the account of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), the Bible warns us how the “diversity” of peoples can turn into a vehicle for selfishness and an instrument of division.. . . The spirit of Babel is the antithesis of the Spirit of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-12), of God’s design for the whole of humanity: that is, unity in truth.”

    Everything there is the exact opposite of the truth. The story of Babel does NOT warn us about the dangers of diversity, it warns us about the dangers of unity. The WHOLE point of Babel is that when humanity becomes too unified in pursuit of one end, God sees us as guilty of dangerous hubris and pride. Nor was it God’s design (in that story) for us to have “unity” — the whole point of the story is that God destroys unity by confusing everyone’s language and spreading them out over the face of the earth.

    One could hardly imagine a biblical story more fundamentally opposed to the idea of a “world Authority” than the Tower of Babel.

  13. October 28, 2011 11:12 am

    The Catholic philosopher John Rist has some useful observations on Benedict’s earlier encyclical:

    And a second point: the result of all this is absurdities in practice as well as in theory: thus Libya was the state recently in charge of the UN policy on human rights. There is little reason why – to put it crudely – any of us should regard the whims of a collection of dictators as a useful guide to the nature of natural law – nor for that matter the aims of well-financed lobby groups like Planned Parenthood and similar non-governmental agencies with excessive influence over politicians. Of course, in theory the Vatican knows all this perfectly well, not least in its constant but ineffectual efforts to restrain the UN’s pro-abortion policies world-wide. What needs further reflection is whether an international body, given even more authority, is going to be any more amenable.

    Again, Augustine, in the City of God and speaking of at least nominal and sometimes more than nominal Christian rulers, would advise extreme caution. The diversity of languages, according to his reading of the story of the Tower of Babel, was God’s way of preventing too much centralized and tyrannical control. For once power to act as God is given to a human body, and especially a single human body, the very principles of Benedict’s documents will be overthrown. As the old Roman poet put it, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?” (Who will guard the guards?”). Benedict is clearly aware of the risk (as in 71) but seems to underestimate it. Indeed principles of subsidiarity and of a world authority seem to be necessarily and intrinsically in radical conflict – unless we are going to be very clever indeed and helped in a manner not to be assumed by the grace of God (who, for his part, did not like being put to the test at Meribah).

  14. William Kelly permalink
    October 28, 2011 11:41 am

    What part of the US Constitution would allow the President or Congress to offload US sovereignty to an international commission.?

    • October 28, 2011 12:43 pm

      Maybe it’s time to forget about that document, which seems to be regarded among many Americans as “divinely inspired”.

      • William Kelly permalink
        October 28, 2011 12:58 pm

        Your response, suggesting that we forget about the U.S. Constitution, tells me all I need to know about the merits of your position.

      • Thales permalink
        October 28, 2011 1:11 pm

        Um…you can’t forget it, it’s the law. If you don’t like it, you can’t ignore it — you have to change it.

      • Paul permalink
        October 28, 2011 2:27 pm

        Oh I don’t know. Our last two presidents seem to have no problem ignoring certain, inconvenient parts of the Constitution when it suits them.

    • Pinky permalink
      October 28, 2011 2:34 pm

      I don’t think the Pontifical Council was trying to present a legal argument.

    • Paul DuBois permalink
      October 31, 2011 2:25 am

      The part of the constitution that says when the president signs a treaty and the Senate ratifies it it becomes US law.

  15. Kurt permalink
    October 28, 2011 12:57 pm

    the result of all this is absurdities in practice as well as in theory: thus Libya was the state recently in charge of the UN policy on human rights.

    And the U.S. Senate committee in charge of civil rights was chaired by a conservative segregationist from Mississippi.

    What part of the US Constitution …

    Article II, section 2, second clause.

    • October 28, 2011 2:33 pm

      Kurt, your tu quoque is not only fallacious here but unwittingly proves my point.

      That is, from your own perspective, it should be obvious (as your own example shows) that human institutions established with the best of intent can be coopted and distorted by power-seekers. So why would you want to give elite power-seekers an even more powerful and secretive arena in which to shape world political decisions to their own ends?

      • Kurt permalink
        October 28, 2011 3:30 pm

        … that human institutions established with the best of intent can be coopted and distorted by power-seekers…

        you are referring to transnational corporations?

  16. Thales permalink
    October 28, 2011 1:27 pm

    Here’s Canadian Michael O’Brien’s take on the document:
    http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/michael-obrien-comments-on-vatican-call-for-world-financial-authority

    • Kurt permalink
      October 28, 2011 3:31 pm

      He does a great job connecting this issue with abortion.

  17. October 28, 2011 1:47 pm

    William Kelly: it should tell you that I value the natural law above temporal and limited constitutions.

  18. Anne permalink
    October 28, 2011 7:50 pm

    Maybe not Kelly himself, but his readers are conflating the Vatican’s proposed “world financial authority” with the mythic “New World Order,” which every Republican to the right of George Bush the Elder seems to fear above all else. I suppose Protestants come by this fear naturally, but since when are Catholics so intimidated by the idea of an organization with global reach?

    • Kurt permalink
      October 29, 2011 6:55 am

      Exactly Anne. There is nothing wrong (in fact, it would be admirable) to reflect on a Note from a Pontifical Council and respectfully make objections or reservations. It would not be the best route to sincerely disagree with it doing so in a disrespectful manner, but there are worse sins.

      However, what I fear we are seeing is an attack on this Note for the primary reason that certain political operatives want to turn even the mildest and most qualified suggestion by domestic political liberals that some international policing of finance is needed into an accusation of support for a “New World Order” and all of the associated charges that come with that. It undercuts their ability to do when the Holy See has made the same mild suggestions.

      To attack a Note of a Pontifical Council simply because it hinders the ability to falsely tar one’s domestic secular political opponents is the lowest of the low.

  19. October 29, 2011 7:50 am

    Those who are opposed to the Vatican’s stand on social and economic justice are left with vain attempts to justify or palliate this:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/29/opinion/what-the-costumes-reveal.html?hp

  20. November 1, 2011 3:01 pm

    Do you believe in the Catholic social teaching of subsidiarity? As a “right-winger” as you label me and others who believe in less government intrusion into peoples’ lives I believe in the long standing Catholic social teaching of subsidiarity.

    Do you think that it would have been a good thing if the U.S. could have avoided attaining a large amount of debt due to Fannie and Freddie having a large part in causing the financial crisis? Do you think that it is good to prop up government entities such as GSE’s, have them compete in the private sector, and keep on bailing them out when they had failed over and over again? http://teresamerica.blogspot.com/2010/08/marxismsocialismliberalism-fail.html

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  1. Morning’s Minion at Vox Nova Refuses To Answer Question on Subsidiarity, a Major Catholic Social Teaching « Catholibertarian

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