Saturday, July 11, 2015

Capitalism and the Clergy

Why are religious intellectuals drawn toward neo-Marxist thinking? How does it happen, Kevin Williamson asks, that while calling for an end to poverty they show contempt for the capitalism that has saved more people from poverty than any other economic policy.

While railing against the evils of consumerism the clerics ought to direct some of their fire at the anti-capitalist economies that produced some of the worst starvationism the world has ever known.

You would have thought that the monumental world historical catastrophe called Communism would have cured serious thinkers of their love affair with Marxist and statist policies. Apparently not. Those of a more religious bent must have thought that their faith was being tested. The rest are just a bunch of sore losers.

Today, we are focused on Pope Francis, a man whose anti-capitalist and statist leanings are becoming impossible to ignore. But, Williamson explains, it’s not just the Catholic Church:

The Catholic clergy is hardly alone in this. There is something about the intellectually cloistered lives of religious professionals that prevents them from engaging in anything but the most superficial way with the 21st-century economy. Consider Tricycle, the American Buddhist review, which periodically publishes hilariously insipid economic observations — e.g., the bracingly uninformed writing of Professor Stuart Smithers of the University of Puget Sound religion department, whose review ofConscious Capitalism by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and Raj Sisodia contains within it a perfect distillation of fashionable economic antithought….

As Marx pointed out,” Professor Smithers writes, “capital is full of contradictions. Capital not only creates wealth, value, and jobs — it also destroys wealth, value, and jobs. Those ‘wondrous technologies’ also manifest as wrathful deities, efficiently eliminating or reducing the need for labor.” The implicit economic hypothesis here is that producing a certain amount of goods more efficiently — in this case, with less labor — makes the world worse off. (“Why not use spoons?”)

Aside from the fact that many religious leaders seem disconnected from reality, one suspects that they want to be respected by serious intellectuals… even if these latter are often crackpots.

Here, Williamson explains the benefits of capitalism:

The increasingly global and specialized division of labor and the resulting chains of production — i.e., modern capitalism, the unprecedented worldwide project of voluntary human cooperation that is the unique defining feature of our time — is what cut the global poverty rate in half in 20 years. It was not Buddhist mindfulness or Catholic homilies that did that. In the 200,000-year history of Homo sapiens, neither of those great religious traditions, nor anything else that human beings ever came up with, made a dent in the poverty rate. Capitalism did. One of the great ironies of our times is that so many of the descendents of the old Catholic immigrant working class have found themselves attracted to an American Buddhism that, with its love of ornate titles, its costumes, its fascination with apostolic succession, and its increasingly coddled professional clergy, is a 21st-century expression of Buddhism apparently committed to transforming itself — plus ça change! — into 15th-century Catholicism. Perhaps it should not be entirely surprising that it has embraced the same intellectual errors.

He closes by expressing his chagrin at the way leaders of world religions, by embracing economic ideas promoted by atheists, are impeding economic growth and development:

I am grateful to our clergy, and if my criticism herein seems unduly uncharitable to these princes of the Church, it is only because their backward views on capitalism are doing real, material, irreversible damage to the world and especially to the lives of poor people, who are most in need of what only capitalism has to offer. His Eminence may not entirely understand it, but the banks and boardrooms are full of men and women doing more in real terms for the least of these than he is — more, in fact, than he would even understand how to do — and what he proposes mainly is to stand in their way. For God’s sake, stop it.


Anonymous said...

In terms of production and distribution, capitalism works best, at least within certain contexts.

The Church should focus on the problems caused by capitalism--there are many--than on capitalism per se.

Jim Sweeney said...

In my blog articles, I often refer to Francis, the fool from Argentina, as Pope Dope. And I'm a Catholic from birth, educated in RC schools through college though not law school.

He's a communist type: anti-West, pro-statist as is typical of South American "leaders". Francis' views on America, Western Civ. in general and capitalistic economics are abysmally ignorant, including his rants on climate, the throw-away syndrome and exploitation of the poor by the rich. If you want to see exploitation of the poor, see most Catholic countries - e.g. the Philippine Islands - where there is no divorce allowed and poverty is the norm for 90% of the people. If you disagree, go there and look around. The major employers, other than government, are Western capitalists "exploiting" Filipinos by providing employment and, without whom, the country would be immeasurably worse.

The diversity of the Church's College of Cardinals is the root problem as its members will henceforth tend to elect diverse Popes thus giving us a forever stream of useless Pontiffs leading to further apostasies of Westernized Catholics. When Ireland approves of gay marriage you know you've lost the game. And when Catholic Justice Kennedy legalizes it, how do you ever recover?

You don't.

priss rules said...

Communism was a bad idear but we need to ask...

do means justify ends?

if a woman turns to prostitution and makes more money than a woman who does honest labor, is prostitution better?

does capitalism has a soul despite its productivity?

is it all about sacrificing any principle for profit?

profiteth a man to gain world, lose soul?

look at all the companies that endorse 'gay marriage' just for profit.
these same companies then do business with the saudis who ban homosexuality.

capitalism is good for the stomach but problematic for the soul.

ironically, it developed in protestant nations with work ethic, discipline, and culture of restraint.

but as capitalism turns us into piggish consumers and debtors, even the moral character necessary for capitalism seems to be fading. then what?

communism was bad but it preserved more of national heritage in europe whereas the globalized capitalist europe is heading into mass suicide.

capitalist west promotes pussy riot as the new morality.

Ares Olympus said...

It does seem like dialogue is nearly impossible with both side giving the otherside as a caricature or strawman, each side defining their terms that only shows the positives of one side and the negatives of the other.

I'm not in a position to judge the Pope's past or his visions, or see how the National Review's Capitalism defender Kevin Williamson fails to fairly represent the case.

I confess I don't know how to set a balance. When Capitalism can't account for "externalities", so helping the poor ends up meaning diminishing the future while doing what capitalism already wants to do - maximize the rate that one-time resources are destroyed at a minimum cost. There's simply no possible balance against that goal. And religion can go to Genesis if it wishes to justify it all, mankind is to subdue nature, and be fruitful and multiply, as if its just an accident that those goals serve the capitalist trying to get returns on his investments. And now with our pensions and retirement accounts, we're all speculators, in this game, at least if you're a winner, while most Americans would never get around to saving anything, apparently due to their apetite for the latest and greatest, and keeping up with the Jones and all that. So what sort of message can a good pope give to such promise of abundance? It's not a level playing field to promise eternal reward in heaven if it means saying no to everything capitalism has offered us for the last few centuries.

Myself, I'll go with a different intellectual, and another "conservative" in the sense of someone interesting conserving, Wendell Berry. At least he can write about economics and food and work and mostly not be called a Marxist for having a resistance to the easiest path provided for us by marketers. And he also properly notices that the socialists are just as committed to the destruction of the world for their "programs" as the capitalists.

Berry's answer is decentralization of economics, while it looks like everything does in the opposite direction, at least while there are more natural systems we can diminish for another year.
...Berry’s resistance to capitalist definitions of progress rhymes with a long intellectual tradition of skepticism of American urbanization, mechanization, and hypermobility. His 1973 “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” begins with the image of the uprooted, commercially oriented modern:

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
WB: From what I’ve read and heard, socialism and communism have been just as committed to industrial principles as capitalism. My own inclination is not to start with a political idea or theory and think downward to the land and the people, but instead to start with the land and the people, the necessity for harmony between local ecosystems and local economies, and think upward to conserving policies such as those of the 50-Year Farm Bill.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Within the space of around 50 years communism killed around 100,000,000 people... while impoverishing many more. Unless you think that starvation is a purifying experience, I don't see what the debate is. I discussed the difference between catholic and protestant cultures in europe in my book The Last Psychoanalyst. those who are interested can consult it.

Kaiser Derden (aka TDL) said...

"while calling for an end to poverty they show contempt for the capitalism that has saved more people from poverty than any other economic policy."

They also forsake sex ...

The reason for both is they are idiots ...

n.n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
n.n said...

The optimal system will reconcile two moral axioms: individual dignity and intrinsic value, and two orders: natural and human. The problem with totalitarian regimes is that they impose mandatory behavioral schemes. The problem with authoritarian regimes is that they depress or suppress competing interests. The problem with libertarian (e.g. capitalist) regimes is that they ignore the second moral axiom and favor the first. The problem with liberal regimes is that they are unprincipled and degenerative. America is characterized by a dysfunctional left-right paradigm.

Jim Sweeney said...

Pope Dope is trying to organize statism as opposed to free PEOPLE as well as their free markets. Remember where he comes from and where he works. He is used to and functions in a sclerotic, hierarchical business called the Church where, if you don't obey its rules, you are cast into exterior darkness and eternal damnation.

He is bringing the fire and brimstone style of 3rd world preachers into the new world as he wants to ignite the poor whom HE can command against the free people whom he cannot command. It is known as hubris or, politically, communism. Marx alleged morality as well but could never feed a country well much less make it close to, say, the USA. Pope Dope is the same. All mouth; no production. Ironically, he has never worked in his life and lives off of those poor whom he can command.

Every country who likes his philosophy is a disaster. List them: pick one you would live in. Then tell us why it is better than the US or other western-style countries.

priss rules said...

"Within the space of around 50 years communism killed around 100,000,000 people... while impoverishing many more. Unless you think that starvation is a purifying experience, I don't see what the debate is. I discussed the difference between catholic and protestant cultures in europe in my book The Last Psychoanalyst. those who are interested can consult it."

I agree communism turned out to be garbage, and I would not endorse it.

But global capitalism as it exists may wipe out entire nations and cultures.

I'm not a fan of Trump, but he has pointed out some troubling trends with global capitalism.
Without borders, nations are not possible.

Also, a system that fattens the body but rots the soul needs to be challenged.
'Gay marriage' is total rot. It is a capitalist disease of decadence, narcissism, and hedonism.

When the soul goes, the body will eventually follow.

priss rules said...

Why Trump ruffled some feathers

priss rules said...

Wrong video above.

This is the right one:

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

My experience is that the religious don't understand the dynamics of capitalism, and therefore do not trust it. They don't hate it, they just don't want bad things to happen to good people. And they can't understand why they do. So they blame the object.

At the heart of it is a misunderstanding that Professor Smithers eloquently expresses at the heart of his criticism, parroting Marx: that capital doesn't care, it doesn't love, isn't compassionate, etc. Indeed he is correct. It's not animate, and no one is claiming it is but those who make capital into this satanic bogeyman. Capital is a tool, and in symbolic expression of money. Money is convertible property, and its relevance is based on trust. It is a medium of exchange. Behind all those digits is economic potential. Where will it go?

Most religious people don't see capital as a tool. They see money as a source of pain... as the tool of avarice, greed and human failing. They point to love if money, and forget the choice of the actor to love money, not the inanimate nature of money itself. In this sense, they are looking at money as a thing of worship, without examining whether individual choice creates it that way. People worship money, money does not and cannot worship people. That is something the religious can minister to: a disordered attachment to money. The human problem is always the same: there's never enough of it. What people do in the face of that scarcity is the truth about money: their subjective truth. But it's still a tool, it's still an object.

God created the world in an act of love. We were each created by God as a human person. We were invited to use things. Capital is a thing. When we love it, at the expense of other people, we suffer... whether immediately or in the future. This is basic. But the religious point to economic pain in the aggregate, and sweep aside human agency. They don't minister to the transformation of the individual soul, which is the great challenge, the wondrous prize. They want to banish the thing, which they imagine to be the source of evil. So we get evil things, and corrupted people. People corrupted by things. That's ridiculous logic. That's how we manufacture victimhood. This is how we get the crazy talk that guns kill people. After all, the Jesuits' "America" magazine had a cover story that ran in the wake of Sandy Hook, saying the time had come to repeal the Second Amendment. Translation: people can't be trusted with things.

Human beings are actors in this world. We have agency. Things are used. Attaching evil intent to a rock is preposterous. Ministering to that person who seeks to pick up the rock and hurl it at another's head is an opportunity. But many religious leaders are seeing things into the aggregate and creating the tool as the source of evil. This is a mistake, and a consequence of intellectual laziness, which makes for convenient targets.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

When I look at the aggregate, I see u encumbered capital being moved to efficient purposes. That's what we do with things, isn't it? We move and use them. Why should capital be any different?

That's why we're not members of the Lamplighter's Union. But if there were a Lamplighter's Union, couldn't you just see the social justice types lugubriating about "How awful it is that this greedy, godless Mr. Edison is putting all those fine chaps with the brass tapers out of work!" Couldn't you see that??? "Mr. Hawkins is a member of my parish, and a fine Lamplighter with a family, and someone needs to stop this electricity craziness before it ruins us all!"

That's what this is all about. The best religious leaders -- the ones who make the biggest difference in ministry -- are the deeply compassionate types who can connect with people around the trouble and meaninglessness in their lives and help them find a way out. These people minister the people of God. But some politicize their ministry turning the masses into the Liberation Theology Marxist nightmare phalanx of "The People of God," the spiritual proletariat who must seize the means of social justice. Money commits an unforgivable sin against the collective. Does it? Can it?

There is as much room for ministry in a "worker's paradise" as there is on Wall Street.

And the clergy needs to engage with people and minister to those in business, because there is a desperate need for spiritual guidance to heal the hearts and minds of men. But they are ill-equipped to do so, and this will continue for some time because the church is increasingly hostile to business and commerce because they don't understand it. Hillary Clinton shouldn't be talking about having churches change their theology to "reflect the times in which we live," and Pope Francis needs to stop looking at efficient capital movements as a moral outrage. Theology is man's search for God, capital is man's search for efficient exchange.

I do a lot of work in my church, and I see the love it can bestow on the community and those in need. But every time I hear my pastor sit there in meetings where we're talking about financial affairs, he says "God will provide." I accept that, but is the pastor not a created actor in God's world capable of some kind of agency to create an outcome that will help so many encounter God's love? When I ask questions like this, I get stunned silence. Which makes my point: my pastor doesn't understand.

What do we human beings do with things we don't understand? We create myths about them. The "Evils of Capitalism" is a story as epically mythic as they come. Team it up with environmentalism, and you get a potent Apocalyptic narrative.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

What most troubles me is not Pope Francis' view on capitalism. He's no heretic. The Vatican has been clear in its negative views on socialism and capitalism since Pope Leo XIII's encyclical about 150 years ago. What the Roman Catholic Church said then, and I hope will continue to share, is that its chief moral concerns are with with concentrations of power. This is the case for the "third way" of distributism, which loôks like a Norman Rockwell portrait of economic interaction in a small New England town, not a dystopia like "Atlas Shrugged" or "1984." It is very different from the crushing if the human spirit that occurs within the anarchy of laissez faire capitalism and the de facto oligarchy epitomized by communism. So it's not Ludwig Von Mises or Karl Marx.

To n.n's point above, we lose the dignity of the human person in the false authoritarian and libertarian extremes.

What troubles me is Pope Francis' willingness to seek an alliance with modern politicians, bureaucrats and social activists as a means to implement his ideas by force of regulation -- both in nations and world government. That is a flirtation with totalitarian ideology, which the 20th century amply showed is the cause of massive human misery. You look at the political and economic situation in his native Argentina, and it's crazy. Ideology is a thing, too. As Dorothy Sayers said: "Dangerous things, theories."