Monday, December 2, 2013

The Pope’s Apostolic Confusica

I like a lot of what the new Pope has done. In particular, he’s done a lot to push the Church back to its actual mission of spreading religion and away from being about money and politics. Interestingly, he’s done all of that with only a change in tone too, and without a change in doctrine. His latest issue is a little more troubling however... perhaps.

Last week, Pope Fancis issued an 84-page document called an apostolic exhortation. Think of it as his platform. This seems to be a document aimed at pissing off both sides. For example, he did say that the Church needs to bring more women into decision-making positions with the Church, but he affirmed the Church’s opposition to female priests. In fact, he said it “is not a question open to discussion.” He also affirmed the Church’s opposition to abortion. Both of those will upset progressives.

Pissing off the other side, he wrote what I want to talk about today. Specifically, he wrote about capitalism and poverty and what he said is problematic. Before I tell you my problems with it, however, let me explain what I think he really meant substantively, because when you strip out the ideology, what he says actually makes a lot of sense. Observe:

The Pope’s main concern was about extreme inequality. And you know, I can’t disagree with him. My problem with extreme inequality is that it takes away the stake people feel in society and they start to support radical ideas because they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by upending the system. That is why, historically, extreme inequality has led to bloodshed, revolution and typically some form of communism. And in fact, the Pope does note that “unequal distribution of wealth inevitably leads to violence.” So he is being practical in his discussion, i.e. he’s not just saying “it’s not fair.”

And don’t think this isn’t a problem in the US. For decades in the US, any poor person could work their way up to the middle class simply by learning their job, working hard, and staying out of trouble. Those who aspired to more could go further through education or imitative. You could literally go from the assembly line to the boardroom over the course of your life if you proved your merit. Further, the majority of the people who were wealthy earned it by providing some product or service that people needed. They were compensated by the free market and we saw them as heroes for their achievements: they made the world better. The keys were this: (1) wealth was generally earned, (2) political power had little to do with the earning of wealth, and (3) you could work your way up the ladder to each level.

Over the past few decades this has changed. For one thing, the wealthy today rarely earn their wealth through the private market. Instead, they enter the worlds of law or finance, and their wealth comes from the misuse of the legal system to force their way into transactions. In other words, they actually “earn” their wealth by setting up toll booths to clog the free market system, and what they earn is stripped away from companies and people who could otherwise use it invent new products and employ more people. Moreover, their pay does not come from free market mechanisms, it comes from monopoly pricing. Thus, today’s rich make a hell of a lot more money than the rich in the past and they are “earning” it without providing anything useful to society... to the contrary, they are hindering society. Thus, they have gone from heroes to villains.

But this still wouldn’t be a problem if things were going well at the bottom... but they’re not. As I outline in my book, middle class and poor incomes have been sinking badly since the 1970s, even as rich incomes soared (incomes are more unequal today, in the age of Obama, than they’ve been at any time since the age of the Robber Barons). Moreover, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to move up the ladders and to stay on the level you are at. Unlike the past, if you learn your job, work hard and stay out of trouble these days, nothing is guaranteed anymore. Now you need an education, or you will find the ceiling is very low. But even getting an education guarantees you nothing but debt.

The result of this is a poor class who see welfare as their better option and feels entitled because they feel they have gotten screwed by society. You have a middle class that is struggling, which is increasingly turning to “eat the rich” policies, who are also starting to rely on benefits, who see the stock market as fixed, and who see the government becoming a tool for wealth generation on the backs of the middle class who are expected to pick up the tab. That hasn’t led to violence yet in America, but it is the sort of thing that has led to violence elsewhere, and it is the sort of thing which leads people to start supporting destructive policies like increases in welfare for their own class... or worse.

This is why I agree with the Pope’s concerns and why I think conservatives need to start trying to address this issue.

So what is problematic? Well, the Pope’s rhetoric is the problem. He wraps this message in some very anti-capitalist statements. For example, he called capitalism “brutal” and “a new tyranny,” and he complained about “rampant consumerism.” Grr.

First, he’s wrong about consumerism. Consumerism is the ultimate in democracy in action. Consumerism is how billions of humans express their opinions to the businesses and governments around them. It is how we the people reward the good guys who make our lives better and cause the bad guys to fail by ignoring them and their goods. And anything we can do to give consumers more power and more choice, the better. What I think the Pope is really upset about is “materialism,” which is a very different thing. That’s about people choosing stuff over people. He should not be confusing that with consumerism.

Secondly, he’s wrong about “capitalism.” Capitalism is the only way to lift people out of poverty. So attacking “capitalism” is foolish and counter-productive. And again, I think he’s misspoken. I think what he’s really talking about is cronyism, which is obvious from his calls for the reformation of the financial systems.

So the problem is this. Either the Pope simply misused his words or spoken poorly, or he means his rhetoric and is saying something much bigger than what appears to be the substance he intended. If that’s the case, then he’s a fool. If he only misspoke, then that’s fine, except that as someone with this powerful of a bully pulpit, he needs to take more care to speak clearly. His choice of words will wrongly feed statists everywhere. Moreover, for someone whose goal has been to get the Church back to its mission of spreading religion, it’s rather foolish to delve into economic ideology. Further, he offers no solutions by way of guidance. All he says is that unfettered capitalism is bad, but a welfare state is not the answer. So what does he want? It’s not clear.

I get the sense that what he’s talking about is equality of opportunity. He talks about striving to provide work, healthcare and education to all citizens. Those really are the inputs to people living productive lives. In fact, I would suggest that conservatives need a platform that is strong on each of those points: creating jobs and opportunity, improving education, and finding ways to make healthcare cheap and universally available. I also get the sense he’s actually talking about things conservatives should like, and if we could discuss this with him, we would probably find we agree. Indeed, notice that at no point does he call for minimum wages or guaranteed incomes, he never says the government has a duty to hand out these things, and he specifically disdains the welfare mentality.

So ultimately, we probably should be embracing this... BUT his attacks on consumerism and capitalism make it very, very hard to embrace his statement. By saying these things, he has given aid and comfort to people who favor redistribution. He has muddied what he said with sufficient contradictions that it is not possible to know precisely what he wants, which makes it hard to say, “Sure, I agree.” And he has wrongly attacked the very tools it will take to make his goals possible. Frustrating.



Critch said...

I saw another article on his speech the other day, I'm not sure where, but they made a good point that there may be some problems with the translation from Latin to English. They also pointed out that the people doing the translating have had, in the past, a beef with capitalism and the US in particular. I have a feeling that His Holiness was not as strident as the translators may have presented. He seems to be a calm man, very unaccustomed to bombastic speeches. My own priest, when I asked him about the letter from the Vatican said, "A lot of this will work out in time, there will be further clarifications."

I agree with you that it's not as easy to make it these days, it does seem that the deck is stacked. It's important to remember that trickle up economics has never done anyone any good either.

tryanmax said...

Very interesting. My first thought is that the Pope's doodad is probably not written in English, so who's doing the translating?

I'd guess the consumerism/materialism thing is a mistake of language. This new Pope is very much against materialism and I very much doubt he would be opposed to consumer protections. It simply wouldn't make sense for him to say what the particular terms suggest.

On the term "capitalism," conservatives expend a lot of energy defending a term instead of a concept. They use "capitalism" as a shorthand that they never explain, which makes it easy to distort the message.

To the left, "capitalism" has always meant "cronyism" since the publication of Das Kapital, which was the first time anybody ever used the word extensively. So "capitalism" began with negative connotations and only later achieved positive ones (sort of). The association between capitalism and free markets is weak and virtually exclusive to the political right. The left continues to go by Marx's definition. The middle simply assumes capitalism is something other than a free market, otherwise, why use a different term? And free market sounds better anyway.

And from what I gather from reading the international press, I would say in the rest of the world, the association between capitalism and cronyism is much stronger. So when a politician stands up to defend "capitalism" what his opponents and many of the uncertain hear is a defense of cronyism, which must certainly sound insane.

I may as well note that "socialism" is a clumsy shorthand, too. To the political right, it means pretty strictly "national socialism." But to the less ideological, it means a much broader set of ideas, including co-ops, charities, and yes, government welfare. Again, conservatives would do good to worry less about which terms are being employed and instead focus on the concepts, explaining them rather than using "code words."

If I could issue one memo to every conservative candidate running for office, I would say to always speak as though no one knows what the buzzwords mean. Always describe your intent and never use shorthand. That way, it doesn't really matter what the Pope or anybody using those words means, because we will be discussing ideas which are less confusing and have broad appeal.

tryanmax said...

Ah! Didn't see Critch's post before sending mine. Sorry for such a long one!

T-Rav said...

Being very interested in Catholicism as I am, I have followed the pope somewhat over the past few months. I don't know; I think he's an extremely warm-hearted man and extremely humble (both good qualities for the leader of a Church), but I don't think he's as smart as either Benedict XVI or John Paul II, or as good at handling the media.

What I personally find weirder is that if you go on conservative Catholic sites like National Catholic Register (not to be confused with the leftist National Catholic Repoter), the people there seem to be falling all over themselves to praise Francis for showing them how the Church needs to be more embracing and outgoing and....well, unlike the way his predecessors were acting. I don't get it.

T-Rav said...

And of course, "Repoter" should be "Reporter." I think the keys on my keyboard are starting to stick.

AndrewPrice said...

Critch, What I find interesting, and why I'm not at all ready to say this is a bad thing, is that his substance seems completely different than the rhetoric.

For example, he doesn't embrace socialism. He doesn't embrace the welfare mindset. He doesn't renounce private ownership. He doesn't suggest that government is the answer. He doesn't call for the usual leftist stuff like minimum wages, guaranteed incomes, or guaranteed anything actually. he doesn't call for massive tax hikes. He doesn't call for redistribution. So he's not saying the things leftists normally say.

What he seems to be saying instead is "get everyone an education and a job," and that strikes me as pretty conservative in mindset because it suggests that he wants people to build their own lives rather than being handed a life. So I think this may be much more aligned with our way of thinking than it first appears at first glance. It's just the rhetoric which is the problem.

And in that, it could very well be the translators. It wouldn't take much to give this a very different tone in translation than was intended. Ultimately, I would love to ask him these questions, but I doubt he would do an interview, so as your priest says, we'll need to wait to see how this sorts itself out.

In the meantime though, I tend to think what he means isn't at all hostile to conservatism.

Totally agree about the economic situation. And to be clear, I actually think trickle down works... or worked. I think the problem today is the people who have learned to use the government to inject themselves into the market and yank out monopoly profits which would otherwise go to funding inventions, starting firms or hiring people. Our economy has become the victim of a government-induced protection racket, and the loss of that money is hurting the poor and middle class.

tryanmax said...

T-Rav, I'm seeing a lot of clamoring by every side to claim this Pope as its own. Except for prominent evangelicals who believe the Pope = the Antichrist even though none of them have turned out to be yet. They're doing everything they can to vilify him.

I find it ironic that the political left is trying so hard to claim him b/c I figured an endorsement from God's messenger would be about the last thing they'd want. LOL

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, The keys on this computer stuck from day one... drove me nuts. :(

On the Pope, I don't get the sense that he's as smart as the others either or that he's as good with the media. I don't know yet if he realizes that they are not his friends? But he has been consistent in his approach and I think he's picked the right approach at the right time.

In fact, I think what he's done is essential. As far as I can tell, without changing doctrine, he's managed to dramatically change the reputation of the Church. And with the Church losing tons of people all over the globe because it was seen as aloof, protective of child molesting priests, cold, and too affected by money and politics, I think he has done a great job of reminding people that the purpose of the Church is teach the Word of God. I'm not an expert in religion, but I think this will help them a lot in places like South America where they are losing people to the more "emotional" religions. And since he's done it really with style instead of substantive changes, I have to say that I am impressed.

This, if it is anti-free markets, would be the first time I felt he changed hthe Church's substance.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Excellent points! Again, I would love to ask him these questions, like "Do you mean you oppose consumers having choice or people obsessing about material things?" and "Are you upset about free markets or businesses that buy their way out of regulations?" Those are the types of questions that would help us solve what he really means.

And that is a GREAT point about conservative candidates! One of the keys I found as a lawyer to winning over juries is to learn to strip away all buzzwords and speak in "meanings." In other words, as you say, never assume that other people understand words like "capitalism" in the same way you do... always explain yourself more simply. We need to get better about that as we sharpen our communication skills. Yes, it's easy to say socialism and capitalism, but those words are largely meaningless. It's time to speak to people in words they cannot misunderstand and which aren't pre-spun.

On your point about the international community, I'm not sure how they see those words, but I do know there is a language barrier. I've seen it in action whenever I've spoken with foreigners who speak English. They hears some of the words very differently than we do. Again, speaking in substance rather than buzzwords could help solve a lot of our problems.

T-Rav said...

tryanmax, it's a political tactic to embarrass religious conservatives, nothing more. When Francis continues to talk about points of Catholic dogma such as one's responsibility to and ultimate judgment before God, the Left will either ignore him or turn on him if they find it convenient. Second verse, same as the first.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, The left constantly tries to claim Christianity as their own because they think that will swing over the bulk of the population: "Religion is the opiate of the masses," remember? So if you can get people believing that the opium is your brand, all the better.

I find it hard to believe however, that the current Church would pick someone they weren't sure was solidly conservative. The last two Popes went out of their way to drive out the leftists.

tryanmax said...

T-Rav, Certainly. Of course! I guess I point it out b/c their attempt to embrace the Pope could just as easily be used to embarrass them, but no on on the right will try it. Plus, the right should have no reason to be embarrassed. They should instead say, "Yeah, this is exactly what we mean by 'compassionate conservatism' that you like to make fun of." But, again, that would require wherewithal.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I agree. There is no sincerity to the left's periodic attempts to claim religion. It's a political maneuver.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, You're talking about Rhetoric Level 400, when our political crowd (left and right) are barely getting D's at the 100 Level Intro to Rhetoric class.

tryanmax said...

Andrew, you give too much credit. I'm pretty sure a lot of our political class is currently sharing a used copy of Rhetoric For Dummies.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, I think that's largely true, even though I'm automatically suspicious of the people who say the Church ought to be as broad and "inclusive" as possible. I think it's great that agnostic Catholics have started coming back to Mass under Francis, for example (as apparently many have), but I do wonder what they're really there for.

As far as the specific issues of your post go, my thoughts are these. 1) Francis is a Latin-American guy, and the Church in Latin America has had to deal with that quasi-Marxist "Liberation Theology." I don't think Francis is personally guilty of that, but having had to confront it, he probably doesn't want to come across as a total laissez-faire capitalist. 2) Francis is of the Jesuit order, which became probably the most left-leaning of orders in the wake of Vatican II (it had been very conservative formerly), and that may also be an influence on his thinking. 3) The Catholic Church's position on capitalism has always been....well, complicated. In terms of official dogma, it has never supported direct government intervention in or management of society or the economy; in the sense that it's bitterly anti-technocratic, it's among the most conservative of institutions. BUT, it doesn't have a lot of faith in the power of the unfettered free market, either. Ideally, I think most Catholic theologians would like to see a return of some kind of guild structure to mediate the market.

Plus, I don't think they would support consumerism even in the narrower sense you put forth. The various papal bulls I've read or glanced through (and I'm just paraphrasing here) criticize it for implying that people even can find satisfaction in the purchase of material goods, much less in shopping crazes and all that.

All of which is to say, if asked point-blank, I think most modern popes, including Francis but also his immediate predecessors, would say they favor neither collectivism nor unrestrained capitalism, but some alternate method. That's really what seems to me to be going on here.

Tennessee Jed said...

I think one of the best things government can do is to act to set up an environment which promotes vigorous competition in as many industries as possible. As always, of course, the devil is in the details. To sell your notion of stopping the wealthy to misuse the law to worm into transactions, it is necessary for the politician to not only get specific, but to do so in a manner that will resonate with a majority of potential voters. Some of these can be fairly complex so must be put forth in terms that are meaningful without losing their accuracy.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, LOL! True. And with some pages missing.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I think you're right about his influence and that complicates all of this because that adds yet another layer of blur to the lens.

All in all, I think your conclusion is right -- this is the Church saying they aren't socialists, but they aren't economic libertarians either, and what he's concerned about is extreme inequality (something that is a problem at the moment in many places). Personally, I don't think that's all that controversial because there are very few believers in truly unfettered markets and few believers (outside universities) in genuine socialism, and most people would like to see less inequality... the controversy starts at "what do we do about it." And in this case, the problem is really the rhetoric he chooses that is needlessly provocative.

On consumerism, the problem really is that the word has been packed with false meaning by the left. Following tryanmax's point, let me put it this way: what consumerism should mean is simply that the choices of millions of consumers in a world where producers don't have market power over them will make everything better. That's without prejudice to what those choices are. What the Pope and others really mean when they object to consumerism, in my experience, is people looking to substitute material goods for spiritual happiness. I see their point and I agree to a degree. But my problem is when they attack "consumerism," the alternative isn't spirituality, it's economic tyranny. So they are attacking the wrong thing because they work they attack doesn't mean quite what they are targeting.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Agreed. The government should be encouraging competition and innovation wherever possible. But the devil is in the details and that is where these people have snuck in... they've warped the details to make themselves a necessary part of any transaction.

In my experience as an attorney, a great many laws have been created whose sole purpose is to ensure that certain industries must be consulted before you can do X, Y, or Z. In effect, lawyers and bankers have made themselves into middle men you must hire because the law either requires it or de facto requires it by threatening you if your don't. Obamacare has now extended that bit of cronyism to health insurers.

For example, I am aware of companies who need to run contracts by attorneys before they can sign them because they need to check certain boxes just to satisfy some regulations. The company people understand the contract better than the attorney, but they need to follow regulatory procedures. There's no reason for this at all, except that it provides the attorneys with fees. The tax code is so hopelessly complicated that it results in $400 billion a year in fees to people whose job it is to help people file their taxes. That's insane. When you merge two companies, you hire mega law firms who burn your money for no reason whatsoever -- I've done some of that work and I can assure that you it's several million dollars poorly spent per transaction. All that money is spent to get CYA memos... not to do anything that actually helps the transaction or program. That is then money which can't be used to hire people or invest in new products.

We need to rip those regulations back out of our law to free up our economy.

Patriot said...

Andrew.....Great article. I was wondering if you would get around to this.

As a lifelong Catholic, I see this a little differently. Of course, I don't speak for all Catholics or the Church herself, just my take on it. The Pope is "elected" basically, as God's Apostle on Earth. He is elected by the other Cardinals. After two "politically conservative," so to speak, Popes, maybe the Cardinals felt it was time to get out of the political arena and move towards a more neutral position. This could be to get the faith back into those countries where it was shut out due to the political climates. Basically, to give the people there something to believe in again...from a FAITH standpoint....rather than a political standpoint.

I think Francis (and the Cardinals see him) as a good representative of a good priest who embodies the tenets of the Gospel, without being a political agent. He could actually do a lot of good bringing those lost sheep back into the fold due to his apolitical outlook. Maybe that's what the Cardinals were looking for?

He is not a towering intellect like BXVI, nor a warrior on the frontlines like JPII. He is (or appears to be to me) a humble man more at home with the poor and downtrodden rather than in the palaces, suites or boardrooms. I like that.

So, regarding his exhortation, I think his message was to put aside the pursuit of money and focus on what is important in, love, sacrifice and charity. Not an endorsement of any particular political philosophy or market approach, just rather getting back to what this humble priest thinks is our reason here on Earth. All the other stuff will come and go based on what we've seen in human history. Eternal truths like the above should be what is most important in our lives, despite the system we live under.

I doubt (even though I hope) he will bring back the Latin Mass. That would be cool.

Anthony said...


I don't think the rich today are any better or worse than the rich in days past. As I've said before, my theory is that globalization has been a mixed blessing. It results in cheaper goods, but the race to cheaper goods means racing to lower the costs of production (part of which is wages).

I remember a buy America campaign in the early 90's or late 80's where a mother told her daughter that their father was losing his textile job because people weren't buying American even though American products just cost a little more. On a related note, my wife worked in a Honduran maquiladora (clothing factory) as a worker and model before it shut down and the owners headed to China. Maquiladora wages were low by American standards but very good by local standards.

There is just constant downward pressure on wages of workers. There is constant upwards pressure on wages of CEOs because of the fierce fight companies are waging for consumers.

In summary, upper management is seen as key to company performance and worth spending money on while workers are just a cost to be managed. Sadly, I don't think that is going to change.

Anthony said...

As a non-Catholic I don't see the Pope's statements as a big deal. Both political sides in the US fight to claim the Catholic Church, but it largely does its own thing without worry too much about which side of the line its positions fall on so political parties and their advocates inevitably wind up praising half of Church policy and damning or ignoring the other half.

I'd be deeply shocked if the new Pope managed to turn around the Church's fortunes in Latin America. The Church is a massive institution and like all institutions it protects its interests. There have been situations (not just the baby raping scandal) where it has been at least as concerned with expanding its own power and/or avoiding embarrassment as It has been with confronting evil.

Like most churches, the Catholic Church is a collection of people who exist for the best purpose imaginable (to spread the word of God) but the Catholic church is made up of people. We are far from perfect and power, riches and fame (all of which the Church has in abundance) tend to drag us further from perfection.

tryanmax said...

...if asked point-blank, I think most modern popes, including Francis but also his immediate predecessors, would say they favor neither collectivism nor unrestrained capitalism, but some alternate method.

That would certainly be the only answer that is both Biblical and practical. The frustrating thing, though, is that is hardly ever--maybe never--the actual message we hear from any Pope. Instead, they focus criticism on whichever way they perceive things to be leaning, which leads to the natural conclusion that the opposite is good. In other words, the message is just as reactionary as any other. They're very good at telling people to stop what they're doing but not so good at telling people what to avoid.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, I really think that whole "rhetoric" thing is the crux of the issue. This isn't the first time, either, that Francis has kinda put his foot in it with his statements. I don't know what the problem is there; either he has a penchant for speaking off the cuff or he has bad translators or....something. Regardless, he and the people around him need to start paying more attention to communications.

Individualist said...

I think that one thing we all need to understand is the context of the term "materialism" within the catholic church. As a practicing Catholic I think I might have been exposed to the meaning of the word from various sermons that might show a different light on what is being said.

There is a meme in the church that we all get caught up too much in the want and desire for more and more. We watch the TV and see the latest fads and we want to keep up with the joneses. We focus on the material gift giving of Christmas for example and tend to forger the spiritual gift giving of the coming of Jesus, etc.

When the Pope uses that word I do not thin he means it in the context of which economic system is best but rather that he feels people should not concentrate solely on their desires and the fact that marketing seems to drive them to the opposite. I state this only based on the long sermons in Sunday that I managed to listen to when I was too bored with my own thoughts ... but please don't tell my Priest mind might not be glued to every word he says on Sunday... it will just lead to another lecture most likely and well .....

Critch said...

I wish we had a "thumbs-up" button for comments, Individualist hit it on the head.

AndrewPrice said...

Patriot, Thanks! I agree completely.

I think it's clear that his goal is to play down the political stuff and to get the Church focused back on its mission of religion. Moreover, his vision of religion is not the sort of cold, standoffish method the Church has projected of late, but is instead more in the model of humble priests wading out into the world to provide comfort and spread the word. I think that will be hugely significant for the Church, because most people are looking for spiritual comfort and guidance from their churches, not pretty costumes and rabid political activity.

In many ways, I see what he's doing as an attempt to align the Church more with the teachings of Jesus and less with the rituals and business the Church has surrounded itself with. And I think that will serve them well, if he can bring the Church along.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, I think we're talking about different things. Globalization definitely had winners and losers and some benefited, others lost. I have no problem with that because I understand the economics and everyone was ultimately better off. Moreover concerns about American competitiveness and the "disappearing" American manufacturing base are completely mistaken.

But that's not the problem with "the rich."

The problem with the rich is not CEOs who run companies that make things. Are they overpaid? Absolutely. But no one hates the CEO of Coke for being overpaid. Why? Because we like the product and don't begrudge the company its money. So if anyone is upset at the CEO of Coke, it's either doctrinaire leftists or shareholders who feel ripped off... but not the public at large.

The problem is this other group of people who are basically run an extortion racket through the government: bankers who get rich on money borrowed from the state and traded in rigged markets (who then get bailouts when their risks go bad), bankers who inject themselves into mergers to the tune of tens of millions of dollars without adding any real value to the transaction, lawyers who get tens of millions helping the same bankers, lawyers who get billion dollar settlements in class action suits, the army of lawyers who sue for hundreds of companies each year over stock issues for nuance settlements in the million dollar range, lobbyists who get rich acting as middle men between the thieves and the government, Congressmen who join the ranks of lobbyists and add one or two zeroes to their income just by moving their office two blocks over, people who use the legal system to shakedown competitors or consumers or to put themselves into quasi-monopoly positions, etc. These people add $0 in real wealth to the country because nothing they do is needed or wanted... it does not make the country better in any way... yet, they extract hundreds of billions of dollars each year from the economy for providing their services. And the only reason they can do it is because they've made the law such that people are forced by law to hire them. They are the problem, not CEOs of companies.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, I think it will actually help the Church in Latin America... and elsewhere.

Perception is often reality and the perception he is creating is of a new Church. That should help get people to give it a second look. It should also help push the molestation scandals into the past because I think the real problem with those was tone. People were upset that it happened, yes, but their biggest anger was that the Church didn't seem to care. They acted very insular... "we'll handle this, leave us alone." That didn't work. What this Pope is doing is saying, "The Church isn't this large bureaucratic thing anymore that protects its own." In fact, he just fired some cardinal for living too lavishly. That's the kind of thing that allows a fresh start.

Then you add in the idea that he's looking to offer people more of what they want from religion (or said differently, more of what the religions who are growing are offering), and you have a pretty effective re-branding.

The question will be whether or not the priests follow his lead. That will be the hard part because once people are set in their ways, it's very hard for them to change.

AndrewPrice said...

Grr. Ate my brilliant comment!

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That's an interesting observation. At least as the media portrays it, Popes tend to speak out against things rather than for things. This is the first Pope I can think of who actually has laid out a platform for what we should be doing rather than what we shouldn't be doing. Interesting times.

Kit said...

"In fact, he just fired some cardinal for living too lavishly. That's the kind of thing that allows a fresh start."
I think you are referring to this? LINK

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, The rhetoric hasn't helped. It's raised a lot of people's ire and I think it's needless angered people who would otherwise be jumping on board with his ideas.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, Yep. That's the one. He also has refused a lot of the lavish trappings that come with being Pope. Symbolic moves like that play huge with the public when you're trying to re-brand yourself.

Individualist said...


I think it will be difficult for the Church to "play down" the political stuff as to my mind it has been the left that plays up to the political stuff.

The Catholic Church is pro life and against contraception. It holds these positions for purely religious reasons and has done so for decades. It has not changed or altered this position. They do teach this in mass stating that abortion is murder and advising parishioners that it is a sin and working to set up adoption alternatives etc.

The Church has not that I can remember ever engaged in any activism other than asking people to stand on the streets one day a year holding signs. It is the leftists like Nancy Pelosi who have politicized the church's position by making public statements about church dogma and teachings that are false and inaccurate. It is the left that uses dictatorial legal proceedings to shut down adoption services and dictate health insurance coverage that goes against church teachings.

I have heard no one in the church trying to dictate what laws Washington should be allowed to make. All the "controversies" are about Washington elites trying to dictate to the Church what religious laws she is allowed to teach.

The left is not going to stop this until the church caves and adopts their groupthink and then engages in the Orwellian alterations of said memes as the groupthink needs to change to promote the leftist political landscape. Right now the MSM has to show the Pope in a good light because he is the first non European in centuries and is form Latin America making him a member of their special minority classifications.

Soon enough however when the church does not make the changes the progressives feel they should and the new Pope does not abandon the religious dogma of 2000 years overnight then the leftists like Pelosi will be back on their pulpits lecturing everyone what the Church should be thinking and what the real Catholics are thinking and the MSM press will once again fall into the two minute hate mode and write articles about how every catholic priest and nun in Ireland are all pedophiles because they have witnesses that won't be named who speak out 50 years after the fact,.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, Your priest called... he wants to talk to you. ;-)

In all seriousness, I think that's exactly right. It would strike me as really strange if the Pope meant, "I am opposed to consumers having choice and I feel that government should impose those choices for them." That's what the left means when they attack "consumerism." I don't think he meant that at all. I think he meant exactly what you say, which is an attack on materialism, i.e. people centering their lives and their desires around "things" (goods/products) rather than the spiritual and the personal.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, The Church has been engaged in politics for sometime. In the 1960s and 1970s, a lot of priests got into Liberation Theology and preached leftist revolution. In the 1980s, Pope John Paul pushed them out and aligned the Church with Reagan against communism. I would say he also pushed to make the Church much more "conservative" on various social issues by raising their profiles.

But you are correct that the real politicization was done by lay people, both left and right, who tried to speak for the Church on social issues. So in a sense, the irony is that the Church was politicized in the past couple decades by people who weren't officially speaking for the Church.

But that doesn't mean the Church can't change that. Look at what he did with gays as an example. He took the position of, "Church policy won't change... but that's not an issue the Church is worried about." Basically, he lowered the profile and said, "Nothing is changing, but we're done talking about this." Now, neither side can really claim that the Church supports them because Church policy opposes what the left wants and his statement that he's done talking about it keeps the right from trying to use that policy to speak for the Church. That's actually a really clever stance to take to duck out of the debate.

Individualist said...


While I agree with you I guess my point is that I just don't think the Church can do much to stop the Anti-Church bias that now dominates the leftist media. Certainly the Pope can take a lower profile in politics and that is a good thing but that only works if the public at large looks at what Pope Francis says and does and reads the Vatican.

If they read the NY Times then what they will get will be the opposite. The Ireland reference is to an article copied from a British publication (I assume) talking about pedophilia in the church and the Pope's refusal to deal with it.

The article essentially spent three paragraphs stating that thousands of children were molested by priests and nuns in catholic run orphanages and schools over 50 years dating back to 1930. It stated that this as if it was a fact and further made the assumption that the pedophilia was institutionalized in the schools not just overlooked.

It further stated that the Church refused to investigate that claims or doing anything about it.

It was not until the last paragraph that we read that the accusations are 50 years old and most of the priests and nuns are now deceased and cannot answer the charge.

This was typical leftist journalism and it was only printed and then reprinted to support the leftist desire to destroy the church. the writers knew what they were saying was unable to be proven yet they talked of this in the article as if undisputed fact. There were a few bad priests but not thousands.

I think eventually if Pope Francis does not provide these people any fuel that they will create some. Much of what comes out of the left is not just speaking for the church it is demeaning it. Of course the catholic church is not alone nor are they even top of the list for these progressives.

It will be interesting to see if Francis can find a way to neutralize these enemies once the star power of being the "new" Pope wanes. He is doing a good job so far but we will see.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, I think you will be surprised. This Pope has already shown a tremendous ability to get the media to report what he wants them to report. Almost everything he has done has been big news, and it's all been part of the same picture. In a way, he's waged a brilliant marketing campaign. And in that regard, I would say that he's already achieved a major shift.

As for the left, they won't stop, but that doesn't matter. This is something that seems to be lost on a lot of conservatives these days. Just because the left says something doesn't mean anyone believes it. The public only believes slanders when the target plays into the slander. This Pope is a LOT harder to slander because he seems to be truly nice, humble and genuine. When you slander people like that, it blows back on you. That was Reagan's secret. He was too likable to slander, so nothing the MSM tried stuck.

Anthony said...


I agree the public dislikes all the type of people you named, but I'm not sure it connects them with America's economic problems. Those guys have been around forever (okay, not quite) and America's economic problem have become severe only in recent years. Perhaps the red tape they generate is finally bringing businesses to their knees, but the public doesn't seem to be keying on them.

As for the church in Latin America, we'll see. In Guatemala and Honduras I saw a massive generational divide (lots of young evangelicals running around). I was there long after the child molestation scandal broke but I got the sense that it merely accelerated a trend.

Tennessee Jed said...

ever since the welfare state in America was conceived in the Wilson administration and born in "the new deal", conservatism has had to come to grips with the fact America no longer considers welfare programs that only help certain citizens to be beyond the scope of government's legitimate powers, the only thing that has remotely slowed down that particular freight train is the notion of "how to pay for it." Unfortunately, Keynesian economics is still held in enough regard, and the ruinous results of slingshotting ever increasing debt into the future is still more theoretical than concrete. It is contingent upon free market capitalists to make certain that it's worst trait (concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands) does not come to pass. One cannot really blame people who are missing out on the good life to feel particularly good about it.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, I think the public does connect these people in a vague sense to the problem -- not with precision, but they are getting it. Both the Tea Party and OWS were attacks on this very class of people. Populism is rising everywhere and it's rising not against "business" but against "BIG business" and "Wall Street" and their connection to government.

In Latin America, I understand that has been the trend. But trends can be reversed and I think that's what he's trying. Will it work? I think he has a good chance, but we'll have to wait and see. At least he's trying.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I think that's right. And I am hopeful that the Republicans are starting to get this. The more they embrace small business, the more they seem to be heading in that direction.

And you are absolutely right that it does no good to blame the people who are missing out for not being happy. Instead, you need to find a way to minimize the number of those people... or else they will do as they did in Venezuela and simply vote themselves what they could not get otherwise.

Making sure that everyone feels they have a stake is key to social stability.

Rustbelt said...

Andrew, this is quite the thought-provoking article, and it got me thinking. Maybe a little too hard; I had to re-read one of my books to flesh my thoughts before posting.

First, I agree that Pope Francis' words were probably mistranslated. This is because he's not the first Pope to talk like this. A few years ago, my parish priest reminded us of a sermon given by Pope John Paul II (who will be canonized as a saint next year, in April), in which the late Pontiff criticized both the East (for communist state-sanctioned atheism) and the West (for the worship of materialism). My priest said this caused a big stir over here, even with the correct choice of words. So, Francis definitely isn't saying anything new.

And second, it's possible that either Francis or his translators were using a different definition of capitalism than we're used to. I remembered reading about some of the works by Hilaire Belloc (great friend of G.K. Chesterton) and how he described capitalism. You see, when Belloc was writing (a century ago), capitalism was the word used to describe the economic situation of Belloc's home country, England. In short, it was a time when a small group of aristocrats owned much of the land, got most of the wealth, and those did the work saw virtually no reward.
Without getting too detailed, Belloc (with Chesterton), came up with the theory of 'distributism.' (The name may sound socialist, but it isn't. While a member of Parliament, Belloc actually give speeches denouncing the socialist ideas of his own Liberal party.) The idea (rooted in the ownership of private property), was that all services and businesses, banks, services, etc. should be divided locally in towns, counties, states, etc. as opposed to the centralized ownership of 'capitalism' common in 19th-century England.
When I first read about Belloc's distributism theory, I thought, "that's we already have in the U.S. By his definition, we're not a capitalist society." Amazing how words can have different meanings in different countries, isn't it?

So, given that, it's possible that the translators goofed. Or, the Pope and his speechwriters simply come from other parts of the globe where words we're familiar and comfortable with have different, less noble meanings. Anyway, this is just my latest rambling. Food for thought.

Btw, if anyone reading this has better knowledge or understanding on this subject, please feel to share the info. I'm up for learning as much as possible.

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, I'm glad I got you thinking! :)

That's very possible. Even in the US, a word like "capitalism" has different meanings depending on who you talk to. Some equate it to "Big Business." Some equate it to "business." Some equate it to "economic libertarianism." Some equate it to "non-socialism" -- with socialism being a term few people use correctly. Anyone who claims Obama is a socialist, for example, doesn't grasp the meaning of the word at all.

So by using these loaded and vague words, you end up with a problem where much of this will depend on what the listener already believes.

In the end, the real lesson here is (1) we don't actually know what he means at this point, so let's find out before anyone gets upset at him... looking at you Sarah Palin, and (2) when we communicate, we need to learn to be more precise and to rely less on buzzwords that are poorly defined and subject to different meanings.

tryanmax said...

When you think about it, the Belloc definition of "capitalism" makes more sense, as it is associated with the amassing and consolidation of capital. Somehow, the distributed ownership of capital doesn't seem to fit as well.

I think the trouble is that "capitalism" by definition conflates conducting business and property ownership. (Not surprising, since this conflation is central to Marx's attack of it.) "Free markets" and "property rights" as two separate concepts are both easier to grasp and inherently appealing.

AndrewPrice said...

With the caveat that I haven't studied this specifically, it would make sense because Marx's beef was with a class of people, not a style of economic theory so much. As I understand it, he was upset about a situation where the then-ruling class controlled the means of production and thus could squeeze the workers to keep all the profits. And what he advocated was that the workers band together and throw over the ruling class. So maybe capitalism as he meant it was "elite-oligopoly-ism"?

And to be clear, this is not an attempt to say that Marx wasn't a fool or didn't favor redistribution. He was that.

In any event, let me also point out that a great many thugs and cronies hide behind the "capitalism" label while not really having much to do with free markets.

tryanmax said...

All I know is that "capitalism" began it's run as a bad word. Why anyone tried to make it into a positive term--or who it was, for that matter--I don't know, but it never took completely.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Three possibilities: (1) the guys who embraced it were typical of our current right-flank and they got all tingly about playing into the left's rhetoric, see e.g. Rush, or (2) the left hung the word on the theory and it stuck, just like they often do, see e.g. Star Wars instead of SDI,or (3) the people who adopted the label were technocrats who never thought about the rhetorical implications of being "pro-money."

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