A few weeks ago I suggested that we can best understand Pope Francis’s environmentalist encyclical by seeing him as an Argentinian leftist.
Yesterday, Joel Kotkin offered a better explanation of exactly what it means to be an Argentinian leftist, that is, a follower of Juan Peron.
In his words:
We are not talking here about not socialism, as some right-wingers suggest. Marxism, for all its manifest flaws, justified itself by promising to improve living standards; it was passionate about technology, which is one reason Marx called it “scientific socialism.” Instead, Francis seems closer to Peronism, the dominant state ideology of his native Argentina. Even before his most recent pronunciamento, Francis widely disparaged capitalism, which he equated with the cronyism dominant throughout South America.
Of course, Peronism is a form of socialism. One is happy to know that Marx was passionate about technology, but the experience of Communist countries, especially Mao’s China, suggests that the idea was “more honored in the breach than in the observance.” Castro’s Cuba has recently been touted as good for the environment: it has successfully immiserated its people by depriving them of the wonders of modern technology.
So, Pope Francis sees the world in Argentinian terms. What does that mean, more practically?
Since the last century, Argentina has been one of the world’s greatest economic failures, a country that despite a talented and educated populace and huge natural resources, has tumbled from rich country status to a second or third world country. In essence, replacing the American dream with an Argentinian one sounds less than appealing.
This morning Bret Stephens compared today’s financial crisis in Greece with the defaults that helped turn Argentina from a developed to a developing nation:
On Sunday, Greece became only the second country in history—Argentina was the first—to make the transition from membership in the developed world to membership in the developing one.
For his part Kotkin is especially alarmed by the new alliance between the leader of the Roman Catholic Church and the anti-industrial, anti-economic growth green lobby:
With Francis’s pontifical blessing, the greens have now found a spiritual hook that goes beyond the familiar bastions of the academy, bureaucracy, and the media and reaches right into the homes and hearts of more than a billion practicing Catholics. No potential coalition of interests threatened by a seeming tsunami of regulation—from suburban homeowners and energy firms to Main Street businesses—can hope to easily resist this alliance of the unlikely.
As I have occasionally suggested, the movement seeks nothing more than to repeal the Industrial Revolution. Unfortunately, Pope Francis seems to possess very little accurate information about modern industry or capitalism. His is a knee-jerk opposition to capitalism.
Capitalism, particularly during the early industrial revolution, often abused human dignity and engendered huge poverty. This still happens today, as the Pope suggests, but this system has also been responsible for lifting hundreds of millions of people—most recently in China and East Asia—out of poverty. Without the resources derived from capitalist enterprise, there would have been insufficient funds to drive the great improvements in sanitation, housing, and education that have created huge pockets of relative affluence across the planet.
The green movement wants to shut down economic growth. It touts the virtue of extreme poverty and misery as ways to save the planet. And it also, contrary to the views of Pope Francis, wishes to limit human reproduction.
Kotkin summarizes its more radical side:
Given their lack of faith in markets or people, the green movement has become ever less adept at adjusting to the demographic, economic, and technological changes that have occurred since the ’70s. Huge increases in agricultural productivity and the recent explosion in fossil fuel energy resources have been largely ignored or downplayed; the writ remains that humanity has entered an irreversible “era of ecological scarcity” that requires strong steps to promote “sustainability.”
The Church and Francis are now allied to the likes of Peter Kareiva, chief scientist for the U.S.-based Nature Conservancy, who has concluded that not having children is the most effective way for an individual in the developed world to reduce emissions, although he adds that he himself is a father. In the United Kingdom, Jonathan Porritt, an environmental advisor to Prince Charles, has claimed that having even two children is “irresponsible,” and has advocated for the island nation to reduce its population by half in order, in large part, to reduce emissions.
Ultimately the green platform seeks not to increase living standards as we currently understand them (particularly in high income countries) but to purposely lower them. This can be seen in the calls for “de-development,” a phrase employed by President Obama’s science advisor John Holdren for all “overdeveloped” advanced countries, in part to discourage developing countries from following a similar path. This way of thinking is more mainstream among European activists who seek to promote what is called “de-growth,” which seeks to limit fossil fuels, suburban development, and replace the current capitalist system with a highly regulated economy that would make up for less wealth through redistribution.
As we see in today’s California, when wealthy tech titans and trustifarians support these programs, they happily shield themselves from the consequences. Of course, China and India are more than happy to watch Western civilization self-deconstruct because these efforts will help to usher in a new Asian century.
In the West, those who will suffer the most are the lower and middle classes:
Given the reluctance of still poor countries to further impoverish themselves, the burden of the Catholic-green alliance will necessarily fall on the middle and working classes. As we can already see in California (the state with the most draconian environment laws), long-term economic growth has been tepid, despite the occasional tech and property bubbles. At the same time, the state suffers not only among the highest unemployment rates in the country, but the highest level of poverty, when cost of living is addressed, and has become home to one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients.
What matters little to the green movement are the economic ramification of their preferred policies, such as forcing a large percentage of the population into “fuel poverty.” Loss of jobs in trucking and manufacturing would hit blue-collar workers and neighborhoods hardest, according to most studies. How this jibes with meeting the high welfare and retirement costs with an urban population increasingly dominated by immigrants, their offspring, and other poor children, seems problematical at least.
None of this is inevitable. Kotkin’s alarm about a new feudalism may be more a wake-up call than a prophecy.
But, today, in a world where political leadership is exercised by the likes of Barack Obama and where spiritual leadership has fallen on an Argentinian Peronist, things look bleak. But, they have looked bleak before. Perhaps the West will wake up before it follows the path of Greece.
This confluence of private interest, public power and the clerical class is suggestive of a new feudal epoch. Bankrolled by inherited money, including from the oil-rich Rockefellers as well as Silicon Valley, the green alliance has already shown remarkable marketing savvy and media power to promote its agenda. Now that their approach is officially also the ideology of the world’s largest and most important church, discussion of climate change has become both secular and religious dogma at the same time.