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A Doctor Looks at the Papal Prescription, Finds it Lacking

I’ll admit it, I’d been waiting for this.

Over at the Liberty Law blog, Theodore Dalrymple has now taken a look at what the pope had to say:

I was …not completely out of sympathy with some of the premises of the Pope’s latest apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium…but it seems to me that he has yielded in it to the temptation to mistake an initial apprehension of what is wrong as an understanding of economics….We – by ‘we’ I mean all who are likely to read this – are aware that a life of consumption of ever more material goods is profoundly unsatisfying and in the end self-defeating. We all know that an egotistical individualism is deeply unattractive and not even satisfying to the many millions of whom it is the leading characteristic. Even the improved means of communication that the Pope extols in his exhortation may not only conduce to self-preoccupation but serve to isolate people further. A million monologues is not a conversation.

So far, so good – that is to say so far, so banal.

 Quite.

And very typical, I’d add, of the way that the arguments used by this pope sometimes seem to amount to little more than a sequence of punches thrown at a series of straw men.

A good demagogic trick, I suppose,

But back to Dalrymple:

[T]he Pope, alas, then indulges in a little Peronist economics. I hesitate to call his theorizing mediaeval because scholars will inform me that, in fact, some of the scholastics were far more sophisticated in their economic understanding than we usually credit them with, getting well beyond denunciations of usury. I am not sure the Pope has got much further. He writes, inter alia, that ‘Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed on the powerless.’ This is demagoguery of the purest kind, the kind that ruined the Pope’s native Argentina seventy years ago and from whose effects it still has not fully recovered.

 And from which, intellectually, nor has the pope.

 ‘As a consequence,’ continues the pope, ‘masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.’

 If we put the two sentences together, a certain conclusion is inescapable: if only the powerful stopped cannibalizing the powerless, the latter would have work, possibility and the means of escape. To change slightly the framework of reference, four legs good, two legs bad.

 The Pope is loose and inaccurate in his thinking. The trickle-down theory of wealth may or may not be correct, but those who hold it do not express, and never have expressed, ‘a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power…’ On the contrary, according to the theory it is not the rich whose goodness benefits the poor, but the system that allowed them to become rich, even if the rich should turn out to be hard-hearted skinflints. A system of redistribution, by contrast, really does require the goodness of at least the superior echelons of the system, faith in which is genuinely rather crude and naïve.

Most egregiously, the Pope quotes from St John Chrysostom: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods that we hold,but theirs.”

 This could only be true if an economy were a zero-sum game, if my wealth were your poverty and vice versa. But if the world has learnt anything since the death of St John Chrysostom one thousand six hundred years ago, it is that an economy such as ours is and ought to be dynamic rather than static. I am not poor because Bill Gates is rich; as it happens in enriching himself he enriched me, though the ratio of his wealth to mine is probably greater than the ratio of my wealth to the poorest person in my society. I do not care; it does no harm to me unless I let it do me harm by dwelling upon it. In the meantime, I have enough to eat and much else besides.

 This is not to say that all is for the best in this the best of all possible worlds, far from it. The world is full of dishonesty, corruption, cruelty, indifference and injustice. But Peronist demagoguery dressed up as apostolic exhortation will not improve matters, quite the reverse.

Indeed.

  1. T-Fiks

    Can somebody here translate “Peronist demagoguery” into the appropriate Latin? That has a better ring to it than Evangelii Gaudium.

  2. Joseph Stanko

    So is today “everybody post something about the Pope” day on Ricochet?

  3. Crow
    Joseph Stanko: So is today “everybody post something about the Pope” day on Ricochet? · 1 minute ago

    It is a bit out of hand on the main feed right now….

  4. BrentB67

    I keep wondering if all the posts about the Pope’s Exhortation are being put up by people who have read it in its entirety. Most of what I have read here leads me to believe the authors have not. There appear to be about a half dozen paragraphs cherry picked and circulated around the internet.

    I am reading it, it is not a lightweight document, and the paragraphs seem more intertwined and have to be read in context.

    I am as far right on the free market, no such thing as ‘radical’ Islam scale as there is on Ricochet, and highlight constantly Church hypocrisy on welfare. Additionally, I am a Christian that is not sure why there is a Catholic Church. It is curious that me of all people is defending this document against the legion of conclusion jumpers racing to raise the bar in bashing the document.

    It is always interesting to me how many Christians never read the Bible all the way through. There seems evidence that trend is in tact with the Exhortation.

  5. Innocent Smith

    Very nicely put.  I always enjoy Dalrymple.  Ignore the word “pope,” and it is still a very nice statement of much misconception regarding conservative economics.

  6. KC Mulville
    Crow’s Nest

    Joseph Stanko: So is today “everybody post something about the Pope” day on Ricochet? · 1 minute ago

    It is a bit out of hand on the main feed right now…. · 26 minutes ago

    And it’s only Tuesday.

  7. Indaba

    What is it about humans that they think that if someone else has something better, they will not accept their lot but want what the other person has.

    It reminds of that video of the two monkeys and one gets a grape for his task while the other gets a lesser cucumber. It was an acceptable reward when both got the cucumber.

    Seems that we are not far from the primates and there are many who still behave instinctively rather than with thought, reason and data.

    My suggestion is round up some Argentinians and  swap them into a poor area of America for a week. They would be thrilled to get their free Obamaphone. 

  8. Andrew Stuttaford
    C
    Crow’s Nest

    Joseph Stanko: So is today “everybody post something about the Pope” day on Ricochet? · 1 minute ago

    It is a bit out of hand on the main feed right now…. · 1 hour ago

    Crow (if I may), Joseph, I don’t normally blog about popes (they are not really my thing), but there’s little doubt that the likable and charismatic Francis is going to be (or be made into) an important voice on matters somewhat beyond the usual papal terrain. As such, it’s worth paying quite a bit of attention…

  9. MichaelC19fan

    Pope Francis gets into trouble because there appears to be no mention about the failures of his home country Argentina and what is happening in Venezuela. The leaders from those countries and others have used Francis like rhetoric to justify their horrible and destructive economic policies. 

  10. BrentB67

    Andrew, CN, Joseph, and KC, Please let me throw this grenade into the garden party of Papal analysis we are enjoying:

    I think the number one reason there are so many posts about this Exhortation is that reading it, including some of the hand picked paragraphs on parade, the Pope commits the ultimate insult of Christian leaders. He holds up a mirror. 

    In parts of the Exhortation when the Pope is discussing material excess, inequality, etc. he is not criticizing government or socio economic systems. In some parts he is holding up a mirror in front of all Christians and we don’t like what we see.

    In my own life and that of my Brothers I admit a tendency for our self image of our lives as Christians to be much more pure than the reality. It isn’t ‘they’ that are guilty of chasing material excess for its sake. It is us that do it daily. 

    I think part of the backlash to this document, and the document deserves some backlash and criticism, is that we don’t like what we see of ourselves in it.

  11. Crow
    Andrew Stuttaford

    Crow’s Nest

    Joseph Stanko: So is today “everybody post something about the Pope” day on Ricochet? · 1 minute ago

    It is a bit out of hand on the main feed right now…. · 1 hour ago

    Crow (if I may), Joseph, I don’t normally blog about popes (they are not really my thing), but there’s little doubt that the likable and charismatic Francis is going to be (or be made into) an important voice on matters somewhat beyond the usual papal terrain. As such, it’s worth paying quite a bit of attention… 

    Of course you may, Andrew. Crow or CN is fine. I’ve been critical myself of his comments recently. But there is something of an over-abundance of Papal-themed threads on the Main Feed today.

    I do not have any issue with anyone taking his words to task, but I do ask (and I’m not a Catholic, so I imagine our Catholic members even more emphatically ask) that critics and celebrators alike take the time to study everything that he says carefully before simply reacting to the headlines.

    Dalrymple does so, I think, in good faith. I share his critique.

  12. KC Mulville
    BrentB67: I keep wondering if all the posts about the Pope’s Exhortation are being put up by people who have read it in its entirety. Most of what I have read here leads me to believe the authors have not. There appear to be about a half dozen paragraphs cherry picked and circulated around the internet.

    Enthusiastically agree.

    The whole document is about ministry, and spreading the gospel. I find it disappointing that faithful Catholics are going to dismiss the pope’s leadership on ministry because he criticizes capitalism – whether you agree with that criticism or not.

  13. Joseph Stanko
    Andrew Stuttaford

    Crow (if I may), Joseph, I don’t normally blog about popes (they are not really my thing), but there’s little doubt that the likable and charismatic Francis is going to be (or be made into) an important voice on matters somewhat beyond the usual papal terrain. As such, it’s worth paying quite a bit of attention… · 18 minutes ago

    I don’t object, I just find it amusing.  I agree it’s always worth paying attention to the Pope — but then I would, I’m Catholic.

    Some members complain about the Ricochet “God Squad” and say they come here to read about politics, not religion.  I’d just like it noted for the record that it isn’t us Catholics who keep putting post after post about the Pope up on the main feed…

  14. KC Mulville
    BrentB67:

    I think the number one reason there are so many posts about this Exhortation is that reading it, including some of the hand picked paragraphs on parade, the Pope commits the ultimate insult of Christian leaders. He holds up a mirror.

    While I was enthusiastically agreeing to your previous post, you put up a new post … with which I agree even more.

    Unlike a politician, the pope is free to admonish and criticize the church. And in this exhortation, when I first read it, I came away with the clear message that as Christians, we are called to get off our butts and engage the world. Stop b—-ing and whining, analyzing and accusing. Get out there.

    90% of life is showing up. We need to start showing up. And, showing up with a little mercy and forgiveness can’t hurt.

    If my Jesuit superior said the same thing to me in a private conversation, I’d walk out of the room knowing that I just got my butt chewed off.

  15. Innocent Smith
    Joseph Stanko

    Some members complain about the Ricochet “God Squad” and say they come here to read about politics, not religion.  I’d just like it noted for the record that it isn’t us Catholics who keep putting post after post about the Pope up on the main feed…

    I’ve always thought that was silly.  And if you’re here for politics you had better be prepared to talk about religion.  Just as if you’re a Christian you had better pay attention to the pope, Catholic or not.

  16. Frederick Key

    I must admit I’m getting a little sore about the socialist creeping in the Church lately. I’m becoming resentful about helping projects in the parish because some of them are directly designed (although not promoted that way) to help the illegal alien community.

    I resent being turned into an accomplice because of my better instincts.

  17. BrentB67
    KC Mulville

    BrentB67: I keep wondering if all the posts about the Pope’s Exhortation are being put up by people who have read it in its entirety. Most of what I have read here leads me to believe the authors have not. There appear to be about a half dozen paragraphs cherry picked and circulated around the internet.

    Enthusiastically agree.

    The whole document is about ministry, and spreading the gospel. I find it disappointing that faithful Catholics are going to dismiss the pope’s leadership on ministry because he criticizes capitalism – whether you agree with that criticism or not. · 23 minutes ago

    I am trying to read the document from two points of view:

    Professionally, as an economist there is much to disagree with and I think the Pope speaks authoritatively on matters that he isn’t an authority. I don’t think he intentionally tries to hand a weapon to the left, but it is hard to argue that in portions of it he does just that.

    Spiritually, I read many of things personally and ask: “Am I doing/not doing that?” as if I don’t already know the answer.

  18. BrentB67
    KC Mulville

    BrentB67:

    While I was enthusiastically agreeing to your previous post, you put up a new post … with which I agree even more.

    Unlike a politician, the pope is free to admonish and criticize the church. And in this exhortation, when I first read it, I came away with the clear message that as Christians, we are called to get off our butts and engage the world. Stop b—-ing and whining, analyzing and accusing. Get out there.

    90% of life is showing up. We need to start showing up. And, showing up with a little mercy and forgiveness can’t hurt.

    If my Jesuit superior said the same thing to me in a private conversation, I’d walk out of the room knowing that I just got my butt chewed off. · 19 minutes ago

    I am not Catholic, but this is a key reason why I think this document is important. Pope Francis isn’t running for re-election. When the yoke of responding to public opinion is absent there is more room for truth and transparency.

    Additionally, we do not grow by only consuming that which with we agree. This is a challenging Exhortation. 

  19. Flagg Taylor

    “On the contrary, according to the theory it is not the rich whose goodness benefits the poor, but the system that allowed them to become rich, even if the rich should turn out to be hard-hearted skinflints. A system of redistribution, by contrast, really does require the goodness of at least the superior echelons of the system, faith in which is genuinely rather crude and naïve.”

    That’s SPOT ON!

  20. Crow
    Flagg Taylor: That’s SPOT ON! · 4 minutes ago

    I recently have had occasion to turn with some care to Proverbs 8-9. Perhaps His Holiness can be enticed to do the same. We seek only to instruct a wise man that he may be wiser still.

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