Friday, June 19, 2015

Is Pope Francis an Argentinian Leftist?

Even if we do not agree, we all understand that the the leader of the Roman Catholic Church offers an authoritative voice on faith and morals. On such matters Pope Francis commands respect.

And yet, when it comes to science and political economy the pope does not command similar respect.

Pope Francis, who has done many good things to restore the good name and reputation of the Catholic Church has now chosen to publish an encyclical based in some considerable part on Argentinian leftist thought.

This follows upon his efforts to rehabilitate the leaders of South American liberation theology, an unholy amalgam of Catholicism and Marxism. This theology was rejected and ultimately silenced by Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger. Now, Pope Francis has brought it back.

Argentinian leftists-- the most famous was Che Guevara-- have long believed that North American capitalism is a scourge. They routinely denounce North Americans for exploiting and oppressing the South American continent. They believe that all the ills that have befallen a place like Argentina have been caused by predatory and oppressive capitalist colonialists.

You have to see it to believe it.

In the late 1980s a group of Argentinian physicians practicing in the United States wanted to build a new hospital and medical school in the city of Rosario, Argentina.

Many local physicians were horrified at the prospect. As they explained to me—I was travelling there at the time—if there’s an American medical school in Rosario, the next thing you know, they marines will invade Argentina.

They were not kidding. They were not undereducated peasants. Most of them had even been psychoanalyzed.

These thoughts give you a flavor of advanced Argentinian thought. Given this mix of quasi-Marxist and quasi-paranoid thinking you can understand how a country filled with educated and capable people becomes dysfunctional.

As for Pope Francis, its one thing to lead one of the world’s great religions. It’s quite another to try to pass off leftist claptrap as religious teaching. The sad part, for those who believe that religion matters in this world, is that the pope’s encyclical will (and has already) damaged his and the church’s reputation.

In his encyclical the Pope offers a riff against consumerism and air conditioning. Rich Lowry responded in Politico:

The pope writes of “harmful habits of consumption,” including “the increasing use and power of air conditioning.” This apparently is the result of an insidious capitalistic dynamic: “The markets, which immediately benefit from sales, stimulate ever greater demand. An outsider looking at our world would be amazed at such behavior, which at times appears self-destructive.”

That’s assuming the outsider lives in a very cool climate, or doesn’t mind sweating. Anyone not so lucky probably thinks the inventor of air conditioning should be canonized. In France about 10 years ago, roughly 15,000 mostly elderly people died during a heat wave, in part because they lacked the aforementioned wasteful air conditioning.

Lowry might have added that when cultures reject capitalism, by following the exalted teachings of Karl Marx, they do not have to worry about consumerism… because there is nothing to consume. As everyone knows Communist regimes have excelled in producing starvationism.

Keep in mind,  when Chairman Mao launched a great movement against capitalism with his Great Leap Forward, 35 million people starved to death. Also keep in mind that the extreme poverty rate in China in 1980 was around 82%. After free enterprise was introduced the extreme poverty rate dropped to 12% in 2010.

There is little doubt that the Chinese capitalist revolution produced a massive amount of filth. And yet, one suspects that the people were willing to make a short-term problem as a trade-off to overcome mass starvation. Besides, only capitalism and industry is capable of cleaning up the filth.

Over the past two centuries or so, the lifespan and quality of life of people in places like Great Britain and America have improved dramatically. This did not happen because of socialism, but because of business, commerce, manufacturing, modern sanitation and medicine, all of which occurred because of the Industrial Revolution and free enterprise.

Lowry explains the point well:

While the pope pays lip service to technological advances, he doesn’t truly appreciate their wonders. The Industrial Revolution was one of the greatest boons to humankind. Consider the unrelieved misery — the disease, the poverty, the illiteracy — before around 1800, when if you weren’t an aristocrat, a general, or a bishop, your life was probably nasty, brutish and short. Mass industrialization launched the world on a radically different material trajectory.

“The average person in the world of 1800 was no better off than the average person of 100,000 B.C.,” Gregory Clark writes in his book, “A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World.” “Life expectancy was no higher in 1800 than for hunter-gatherers: 30 to 35 years. Stature, a measure both of the quality of diet and of children’s exposure to disease, was higher in the Stone Age than in 1800.”

Francis believes that free enterprise, industrialization and consumerism has assaulted Mother Earth. Lowry responds:

This sinful assault on the Earth, by the way, largely consisted in taking otherwise completely useless glop from the ground and using it to power economic and technical advances that enriched average people beyond anyone’s imagining. This is obviously a secular miracle of the highest order, although the religiously inclined might think: Thank God for fossil fuels, and above all, for the human ingenuity that figured out what to do with them.

And the bounty hasn’t ended. Something like a billion people have been lifted out of poverty in places like India and China in recent decades as they have embraced markets and global trade. The pope should be delighted, except he has a blinkered view of capitalism as a zero-sum game benefiting only the privileged.

Pope Francis wants to instill guilt in northern nations, the better to induce them to pay off the wages of their sin by shipping boatloads of money to the more indigent southern nations. One suspects that he is really calling on North Americans to forgive the debt that the government of Argentina has defaulted on.

In Lowry’s words:

In this vein, he [Pope Francis] writes of the “ecological debt” that exists “between the global north and south.” Well, if we are going to speak of debts, the global north gave the global south the modern world. (You’re welcome.) The best thing that can happen to the developing world now is that it can follow our example of growth driven in part by cheap energy. It will enrich them, uplift their poor, give them more wherewithal to adapt to future changes in the climate, and — over time, one hopes — foster forms of government that are accountable to their people and respect their rights.


Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

I am a practicing Roman Catholic. I love my Church. I have compassion for the plight of the truly poor and needy -- in all realms of human endeavor, not just physical or material poverty. We are living amidst a spiritual crisis in the West, not a material one.

I simultaneously believe that air conditioning is the greatest invention in the history of mankind. It is a comfort technology, not a luxury item. We replaced our air conditioning system last year. I overruled my wife and spent the (significant) additional money to purchase a 19 SEER unit, which is very high efficiency. I even toyed with going geothermal (our furnace has less than 5 years left in it), but my HVAC contractor -- who is a true tech-head -- said "Geothermal isn't ready for prime time yet." So we'll see what we do when we have to replace the furnace. I choose to protect God's creation because I believe it is true to following the light of Christ.

Worshiping the earth is pantheism, which is a heresy I sense many in the Catholic Left are falling for in their either-or, dualist universe of "sticking it to the man."

I believe in conservation. I do not look at nature in its raw form as a utopian ecological wonderland, but as the wilderness it is. Wilderness is beautiful, and I spent a lot of time out there in the North Carolina wilderness as an Outward Bound Instructor. I love nature. Nature is God's first language. But nature is not all cute critters and beautiful sunsets. Yet we are chartered by God's pronouncement in Genesis to subdue the earth. Nature has a dark side we all know about. That's why "wilderness" starts with "wild." Things like hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, floods, polar vortices and death.

Wanting all the upside with none of the downside is a natural human desire. But talking about all the lovely little frogs, alpacas and glaciers as "true nature" while calling "increased" hurricane activity, a polar vortex, drought and melting glaciers as evidence of a colossal, intentional human disregard for the planet -- Anthropomorphic Climate Change -- is silly. We are told by scientists that we are small and the earth is complex, until we talk about Climate Change. Then the causes get really simple. And solutions are invariable: scarcity, rationing.

Pope Francis has a great many advisors, and one of the core group says that equilibrium for humans in the planet is one billion persons. Okay, what do we do with the rest of them? This strikes me as a problem for key Catholic theological issues like life. If you think positively about human life.

Again, the trap we have here is essentially Malthusian. We're told we're all going to die on an accelerated schedule if we don't "do something!" Yet we are doing a pretty good job at feeding people. Not perfect, but Jesuits always say that perfect is the enemy of the good. We are not to have an indifference to suffering, but to do something to comfort those human beings who suffer.

This does not mean we have to look at some speculative climatological computer modeling as "the source" of natural events that cause pain and discomfort. We are overestimating man's impact on all this. The Sahara used to be a Garden of Eden. Alaska's North Slope (ANWR) has petroleum resources because there used to be organic matter there, but is now a vast, icy wasteland. We've had Ice Ages before, and we'll have them again. Cold is a greater enemy to man than is heat. Cold means inescapable death.

Cont'd below...

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

... Cont'd from above

Yes, Liberation Theology is the bridge between Marxist thought and Catholic theology. Yet Marx was wrong. Class is not man's problem. Climate change happens continuously and will into the future. The human problem is sin. Waste of God's bounty is a form of sin. And renewal and conversion will go on within each of us to conserve and protect God's creation.

But the solutions -- in the form of global bodies and bureaucracies -- is a totalitarian temptation that will inevitably cause great pain. I agree with the pope that technology is a modern idol, rather than a tool. But I do not agree with the Marxist critique of capitalism because it divides people into classes and degrades the value of human creativity.

This pope came from Latin America, and had a different experience as I've had as an American. There are real structural economic issues in Latin America. But we've seen ample demonstrations that the solution will not come from juntas, strongmen, premiers, academics and bureaucrats. Kirchner is as much a sinful creature as the CEO of an Argentinian bauxite mine, and one could argue her station demands a great deal more responsibility of her in leading millions than that of a businessman employing a smaller group of people. Yet she falls for the same tired, outworn, fully-tested and fully-debunked economic theories that result in pain for others, while those of her ilk live in luxury, insulated from the suffering they make worse. If

While Pope Francis has garnered whatever admiration he has, his most important gifts are those of voluntary poverty, mercy and deep faith that have inspired billions as a worthy example of Christ's love and suffering. But he's out beyond his depth in the economic and political. Command-and-control may work for the vast Roman Catholic Church and the deep institutional conformity it demands, but economics is far more dynamic.

Saving souls and saving lives is a both-and proposition. So is economic advancement with institutional compassion. The danger of the Climate Change crowd is their blind faith to a fatalistic, zero-sum game. I would urge the pope restraint, and to seek the conversion of the soul rather than enabling and consorting in creating huge global bureaucracies to enforce scarcity programs the powerful will be exempt from. Not every leader would eschew something like a Vatican palace for a small apartment. That's someone whose heart has been converted to Christ. You can't demand such transformation at the end of a gun barrel, which is where the environmental agenda is going.

Pope Francis' theology reflects a sound Catholic inheritance, but his suggested remedies and slogans in the document betray a Left-leaning worldview. If that's the Southern Hemisphere view, so be it. But Chile, Australia and New Zealand might beg to differ.

And now I have to get on a plane, wondering whether the long-term rationing and scarcity that seems to be on the horizon will mean that this will be another "luxury." Who will declare whether it is or is not? And will they be just, and follow what they declare is best for the rest of us? Don't hold your breath...

Ares Olympus said...

IAC: We've had Ice Ages before, and we'll have them again. Cold is a greater enemy to man than is heat. Cold means inescapable death.

I'm glad you're interested in conservation, but it is curious that you call A/C a necessity rather than a luxury, and then call cold as inescapeable death. So which is it really, heat or cold that most threatens us. Perhaps Robert Frost's Fire and Ice poem can help us decide?

Somehow people love the idea of moving to Mars with average temperatutes -80F, rather than Venus with average temperatures of +800F. Which one is inescapeable death? Of course you might argue Venus will have lots of potential solar power, while even if you found oil or coal on Mars, you'd have to also find a source of free oxygen to burn it.

President Carter suggested we turn down the winter thermostat and wear a sweater, but didn't mention A/C for summer cooling. Certainly geothermal heat pumps for heating and cooling are already viable if we were willing to pay for it. At minimum it seems reasonable to tax new home constructions that DO NOT support geothermal, since the cost savings are greatest on original constructions.

Perhaps the Pope should stay out of economic and political discussions, and in theory the pope's real power isn't as power-broker, but encouraging individual voluntary action of conscience. The Catholic Left ignore the Church's anti-contraceptive positions, and the Catholic right can ignore the Church's new found environmental concerns, so maybe all is well?

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares, you've outdone yourself here. I am (almost) silenced by the overwhelming logic of your position. Yes, let's let the old die over the summer without AC in their homes, even though we can help them. That's a sound carbon footprint reduction program. It'll be like the farmer throwing away chicks because 1970s inflation makes it uneconomical to bring them to market (remember: inflation is a government program). Let's all bake in all the government-permitted office buildings we've constructed over the last 50 years, built without operable windows. Why stop there... let's go all the way! Let's do away with refrigeration of all kinds because there are people in the world without refrigerators. It is unjust! You have swayed my opinion. After all, the elderly should just hurry up and die, so as to decrease the surplus population. Those engaged in merciless free market commerce are just greedy capitalist pigs. Refrigeration means we'll have to go to market every day to buy foodstuffs, lest they spoil. Great idea! We'll get more exercise that way. And I'm sure that neonatal hospital incubators are a first world luxury, too, so let's dispatch with all the preemies as God probably wills it... in perfect alignment with the purity of natural creation. Why stop there? No more ice hockey or broomball in June! We'll harness wind, solar and geothermal and resurrect our sinful economy. It's Christmas! Damn the cost, we've got imagination, will and hope. Let's just snap our fingers and make it so! After all, it's a new age... money is but a fiction. And Ares, your Roman name is Mars, perhaps you should be a pioneer in the coldest reaches of our solar system. Keep believing the Climate Change stuff, and keep me well informed... clearly I need my eyes opened. I am so ashamed, my conscience is riddled... I'll go to confession on my way home today.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares, c'mon.... tell the truth... You think Cristina Kirchner is pretty hot, don't you?

Ares Olympus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ares Olympus said...

Thanks for the great hysteria IAC!

Always remember the way we do things is the only way possible, and if anyone complains that we could thrive while using up less one-time resources, with a little more cooperation and limitations on individual freedom, tell them old people will die.

Yes, I know hysteria works both ways, the conservative left can be hysterical about theorical future catastrophes while the libertarian right can be hysterical about the loss of individual freedom to short term profits so we can double the GNP every 10 years to keep up our debt payments.

People are apparently dying right now in Greece due to our collective debt madness. But as long as we personally can keep our A/C running, we can be sure we're on a path to prosperity.

And isn't it strange that Greece is the destination for refugees? I wonder how they're going to get A/C and refrigeration going for all these homeless people?

Future climate change is an open question to me, and our ability to mitigate that future, even more so, but it looks to me that economic failure is what is going to bring the greatest collective suffering humanity has ever known.

At least someday us who survive the next 20 years can tell the next generation of the miracles and wonders we had before [insert generic scapegoat] came along and spoiled our party and left us destitute.

Ares Olympus said...

p.s. Searching a bit I found:

A wiki-article which I imagine will be actively changed over time: Laudato si' (Praise Be to You) is the second encyclical of Pope Francis. The encyclical has the subtitle On the care for our common home. In it, the Pope criticises consumerism and irresponsible development, and calls for "swift and unified global action" to combat environmental degradation and climate change (also known as global warming).

And another summary, no talk of political right vs left. I wonder how you isolate and moderate political bias that motivates such things?
Top Ten Takeaways from 'Laudato Si''
1) The spiritual perspective is now part of the discussion on the environment.
2) The poor are disproportionately affected by climate change.
3) Less is more.
4) Catholic social teaching now includes teaching on the environment.
5) Discussions about ecology can be grounded in the Bible and church tradition.
6) Everything is connected—including the economy.
7) Scientific research on the environment is to be praised and used.
8) Widespread indifference and selfishness worsen environmental problems.
9) Global dialogue and solidarity are needed.
10) A change of heart is required

Anonymous said...

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If global warming is man-made, irreversible, and potentially harmful to humanity, then as a collective experiment it could be prohibited on moral grounds.

The Pope has as much moral authority on such issues as anyone else and a lot more compelling authority then those who see no moral issue or who are obviously acting only in their own self interest.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, do you act in your own self interest? Or are you always taking one for the team?

The best part of your diatribe is that it's irreversible. That's funny. How do you know? How does the pope know? How does anyone know?

These are climate models, not climate facts. And the climate models have been wrong.

The word potentially is your giveaway. Let's live our lives according to what might happen, and we should just live like hedonists, because we could get hit by an asteroid.

The ounce of prevention you favor could be wasteful. But at least we'll be safe. Living in a bubble.

Dennis said...

When I was working on a graduate degree I took a macroeconomics class that was built on an econometric model. The sad part is that by the time the author got through discounting the variables he believed had no affect, weighting other variables at a lower rate and generally discounting anything that would interfere with the results the author desired he produced a model of the economy that proved him correct. Can one imagine that he didn't get the results he expected? An aside here is that I made a mistake here in taking two graduate level courses while working full time because I though "Organizational Behavior" would be a walk in the park so to speak. Never did that again.
Here we have what is the primary problem with all computer modeling in that fallible human beings determine the attributes, the variables, the weighting and what, in may cases may be more important than one might at first believe, will be discounted. It is why we, as far as I know, have never produced a computer model that accurately predicted the economy, the whether or anything else that has anything to do with human beings.
It would seem to me that if we can cause disasterous climate change in one direction then we can equally cause the same disastrous climate change in the other direction. Who among us knows what the weather should be at any given time? I have serious problems with people who actually believe they are so intelligent that they know how the Earth's weather patterns should work. Too many people trying to ascribe moral imperatives to things the lack the knowledge to ascertain. Again the landscape of history is littered with failed settled science and the same is true for those who decide what other people's morals should be.
I don't want to be too sanguine, but I would have though that GOD gave us a brain to look at thing from a logical point vice an emotive one. Doing something just because it feels good almost always leads to doing the wrong thing.

Anonymous said...

Although economic systems and climate systems are both complex it does not mean that human beings can reverse changes in climate systems. Humans can start an avalanche with a little bit of power delivered under proper trigger conditions but we cannot easily reverse the process and it would take much more power and effort even if we could.

If global climate patterns are driven by a number of heat transfer mechanisms, and if the patterns have saddle points that are unstable, then filling the atmosphere with a sufficient concentration of green-house gases to disturb climate into an unknown condition amounts to a potentially immoral experiment impacting the future of humanity. It would be in my interest and in the interest of others to preserve a climate that has been favorable to humanity as we recently evolved rather than roll the dice and see what happens.

Ares Olympus said...

This opinion piece is critical of Pope Francis' rejection of market mechanisms of using price to moderate economic activity.
I find nothing objectionable about the pope’s moralizing tone and language of “sin.” But his skepticism about market-based solutions to climate change is rooted in a misunderstanding. A market-based approach to controlling greenhouse-gas emissions — through carbon taxes or tradable emissions permits — does, in fact, reflect moral conviction. The pope gets carried away condemning the “efficiency-driven paradigm of technocracy,” overlooking the fact that efficiency, in this context, is a moral principle.
It’s a moral idea that Francis himself endorses elsewhere in the encyclical, when he agrees that “the economic and social costs of using up shared environmental resources” must be “fully borne by those who incur them.” That idea, called “full cost accounting,” is precisely what motivates those who want to see a price on carbon. When prices reflect the full social cost of consumption, it allows us to minimize the waste of resources — or as economists would put it, to maximize efficiency.

This commitment can be found at the heart of the “polluter pays” principle, which Pope Francis also endorses. Most people like this idea when it’s read forward: “If you pollute, then you should pay.” They dislike it, however, when read backward: “If you’re willing to pay, then you should be allowed to pollute.”

The pope is not hostile to market mechanisms because he is a raving socialist, as some have suggested. Instead, his stance is a natural consequence of his theology.

To understand the pope’s position, remember that, even though he is adopting a progressive stance on the environment, he is not a liberal. Indeed, he rejects one of the central tenets of liberalism, which is a willingness to acknowledge genuine disagreement about the good.

The fundamental problem with markets, in Pope Francis’ view, is that they cater to people’s desires, whatever those desires happen to be. What makes the market a liberal institution is that it does not judge the relative merits of these desires. The customer is always right.

Anyway, this criticism isn't useful for the free-market Right since they also generally are against state interference in their profits, and are happy to deny a problem exists in the first place.

So perhaps the free-market Right should be content that the Pope really has nothing to say about economics, and his message is no stronger than the libertarian idea that individuals should control themselves withi their own personal religious doctrine.

While the Left still wants the State to impose religious order upon nonbelievers, Marxist-style dictatorship, the Pope isn't saying any of that.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

I love the Climate "Science" debate in this blog. I notice it brings out the best in everybody.

Hey Ares, you still haven't answered my question: How do you reconcile warn periods and cold periods on our planet without the presence of the internal combustion engine? I mean, before the internal combustion engine using petroleum even existed! How about before all the petiole who are emitting CO2 and before the population exploded because industrial advancement? And before all the methane the cows produced because we needed their milk and meat? Do you ever suppose the methane numbers might have been counteracted by the declining population of whales in the ocean because of human hunting??? Where are the numbers on that??? That's right... they're hypothetical, and thus imaginary.

If weather isn't climate, then what is climate? As far as I can tell, it's leftist-scientific fantasy.

As I've said so many times, you offer a "heads I win, tails you lose" exchange, just as all the eco lunatics do... as in you and Anonymous.

Ultimately, I'd like to know how you reconcile past fluctuations in climate without (a) the vast preponderance of human population and thus (b) without mass use of man's internal combustion engine tool.

Hysteria? Come now...


Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

"While the Left still wants the State to impose religious order upon nonbelievers, Marxist-style dictatorship, the Pope isn't saying any of that."

You are a profoundly silly person, Ares. You've extrapolated well beyond Stuart's original purpose. You have a ridiculous point, I shall not consider it. I exit.

Anonymous said...

The environmental and social costs are not internalized which is one reason why people for governments as a so-called necessary evil. So conservation of resources has little or nothing to do with markets, but rather, with social obligations (restrictions) imposed on those who own private property.

Anonymous said...

Here are 10 principles of economic justice published by the U.S. Catholic Bishops (1996):