Alberto Mingardi  

Anthony de Jasay on Pope Francis

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On EconLib, Anthony de Jasay has an excellent couple of articles on Pope Francis (one and two). The title might upset a few readers, though: "Che Guevara in the Vatican."
Vatican storm2.jpg

Jasay points out perceptively that this latter-day arch-critic of capitalism, Pope Francis, isn't writing recipes for the cook-shops of the future either. If it is pretty clear that the target of the Pope's criticism is globalisation as it is, the corrections to the system he proposes are at best vague. Writes Tony:

It is a matter of personal opinion what we should understand by 'unbridled capitalism' instead of capitalism proper, of how the capitalists should behave when they put profits against people, and how we obtain a 'new model' of a just society. All these notions are immensely attractive but run the danger of meaning nothing much. When they translate into objective facts, they lose much of their attractions. They become arbitrary rules, uneasy compromises, regulations which turn out to be requirements for more and more regulations in an endless sequence, and bureaucracy that calls for more and more of the same. The total result is very difficult to evaluate. It is even difficult to understand it at all. As the Soviet economy demonstrated, it is something full of surprises, most of them unpleasant, such as factories with a 'negative value added' and the production of shoes for the right foot with no production for the left one.

After reading this, I ran into a status by Philip Booth on Facebook.
Juan Grabois has been appointed advisor to the Vatican's justice and peace department and an advisor close to the pope. He has just said: "In Argentina, we are now in a very bad socio-economic crisis, caused by policies that have a scent of 'neo-liberalism." This sort of thing is just so depressing. How about thinking (being able to think does, after all, distinguish us as being human) rather than just reacting. Argentina is ranked only above Cuba and Venezuela in the index of economic freedom for south and central america (quite an achievement - it is not a strong field in that continent). It's austerity policies (criticised by Grabois) are a reaction to borrowing being equal to an incredible one-third of all tax receipts. It is one of the most protectionist and regulated countries in the world. Of course, there was a time when it was somewhat neo-liberal - and at that time it was one of the richest countries in the world.

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CATEGORIES: moral reasoning

COMMENTS (10 to date)
James writes:

Unfortunately it appears as though the left will never learn. This is incredibly sad given how much is at stake. Would rather feel good than actually think about people in poverty.

Pajser writes:

Socialism is not simple, but if it is more just society than capitalism, it should be done on some way. At least for aesthetic value - the world in which some people are born as landlords and others without anything so they must pay rent is not pretty. Very few values could be more important than more just society. The most important is - human life. Most people would prefer that their children survive in unjust system than that they die in just one. But it is not an argument for capitalism; in 1975 (because China didn't gone pro-market yet) the world, China and USSR had child mortality 130, 85 and 33/1000, respectively. Both countries started planned economy poor (China 26% of world average in 1940, USSR 92% in 1913). It appears ~10 millions of children that died in 1975 could be saved in socialism.

The Marxists (including Bolsheviks) were, of course, hostile toward Christianity - and it is in the interest of the Catholic Church to leave us as little ground as possible. On the other side, to the best of my knowledge, there is nothing in basic Christian values that could inspire Church to lean toward capitalism, property or free market. Idea that greed is a sin assumes belief in, what was on this blog called, "interpersonal utility comparison" and affirmation of decent voluntary redistribution of wealth. If it is not directly anti-capitalist idea, it removes one of the most important incentives from capitalism. I am not sure that capitalism can develop with that system of values.

Socal Bill writes:

@Pajser, You state "Socialism is not simple, but if it is more just society than capitalism". Is this true? What system do you advocate for that has contributed more to those who were poor and made them more prosperous than Capitalism?

You say, "There is nothing in basic Christian values that could inspire Church to lean toward capitalism, property or free market". Really? How about free choice to lead our lives as we see fit? God gave us free will. Capitalism lifts up the lives of the poor like no other.

Mm writes:

What is most interesting is that Argentina doesn't serve as a case study in political & govermental failure for the rest of the world. In the early 20th century it was one of the richest nations in the world, for the last 30 yrs it has hovered on broke. In 1970 it wasmore wealthy than Chile, but now Chile is wealthier & more stable politically. Argentina has greater natural resources but twice the poverty rate- you could go on. Most of the problems in the Argentine economy is due to poorly conceived gov't interventions- think the history of YPF.

bws92082 writes:

Pope Francis: doing for economics what Pope Urban VIII did for astronomy.

Pajser writes:
    Socal Bill - What system do you advocate for that has contributed more to those who were poor and made them more prosperous than Capitalism?

I am a Marxist communist, I wrote that above. I do not claim that communism already contributed to life of poor more than capitalism. I claim it is more just system and that the world should move in that direction, "as much as possible." Many people agree - in theory - but they also believe that in practice, market economy is more efficient than planned economy, and that it more than compensates for injustice. I think it doesn't - and data about child mortality is meant to show that.

    Socal Bill - How about free choice to lead our lives as we see fit? God gave us free will.

I do not think that idea that people have free will imply that they should be allowed to do whatever they want to do. Maybe Jesus's speech about non-violence could be interpreted that way, but it says little about capitalism vs. socialism.

The socialists do not believe that capitalism allow more freedom. If I want to take a walk on the beach, and then someone claims that he owns the beach and that I have to leave, it looks like restriction of freedom to me.

Michael writes:

I think you mistake Communism's claims for reality. The claims are defensible (reasonable people may still disagree, and dismissimg them is the last thing you want to do if you want to come across as non-totalitarian). The realisation has been an unmitigated disaster, at least in the USSR (I have seen it first hand, as has my family; there is als extensive literature, including from a Marxist point of view. I think China is also well-known...
The awfulness is really not even debatable, and capitalist atrocities in the 20th century pale in comparison. (I don't count the Nazis as capitalist here, their worst crimes were not caused by their economic system, however you want to characterise that.)
If it wasn't a typo, you claim that pre-revolutionary Russia was at 92% of the world level economically. This seems a bit high to me, but in any case it was a major industrialising power, almost holding its own against Germany. It then went on to killing tens of millions of its own people. Communist certainly cost lives inthe USSR, plus the victims of that country's aggressions

Pajser writes:

Michael, 92% means that Russian GDP(PPP)/cap was 92% of world GDP(PPP)/cap in 1913. For a comparison, Latin America was at 101% of world average, USA was 343% and Switzerland was the wealthiest country with 450% of world average.

I can easily agree that Leninist political systems were really bad, and I do not advocate that. I advocate ordinary multi-party democratic system. But it doesn't imply that all ideas Leninists developed should be rejected. Like artificial satellite.

Planned economy is particularly important, because it provides complete alternative, not only some redistribution on top of capitalist system. Planned economy did saved lives - evidence is in numbers above; you cannot have lower child mortality and claim that it didn't saved lives.

James writes:


In the twentieth century, people tried comunism and socialist in dozens of countries. Since then, there has been far more migration from communist and socialist countries in the direction of countries with capitalism and market economies. The ones who stayed in communist countries were so unsatistifed with communism that they started their own underground economies to practice capitalism. Were these people all so stupid as to reject a superior system? Did communism just get corrupted every single time in a streak of amazingly bad luck? Maybe communism really just doesn't work the way you think.

If you really think communism holds some promise, take heart that there is nothing to stop a committed group of communists from establishing their own communist economy inside of an existing country. If a few thousand people set up their own commune inside of another country, they would have to pay taxes but they could also rely on the existing government to enforce contracts between the participants and the commune. You could start today and show the world that you are right.

Pajser writes:

James, I think Leninist systems missed essential element of communism: collective rule. They were more like theocracies that accepted some communist values and egalitarian planned economy. Not a real thing, but similar in few important aspects.

Why people migrated from Leninist countries? Standard reason, money. Only USSR and Yugoslavia progressed better (in terms of GDP/cap) than Western countries, but they started 3-4x poorer, and never reached the level of West. So it is normal that people migrated. Black market exists in every country. Better less black market than more - but I am surprised that you are impressed with black market or migration more than with low child mortality.

True, the communist economies can be organized inside market economies, there are lots of such attempts. These economies suffer from adverse selection. The capitalist companies can provide greater rate of return on investment, and greater income to workers in high demand. It makes communist economies in market environment less competitive. However, I do not interpret it as weakness of the communist economy, but as tragedy of the commons of the surrounding market economy.

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