Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Cato Institute hosts form on Pope Francis and capitalism

Today, Tuesday September 15, 2015, the Cato Institute in Washington DC held a panel discussion, broadcast live from its website, “Blessing or Scourge: Capitalism Through the Eyes of Pope Francis”, link. This session anticipate the Pope's visit to Washington DC September 23 (at the Cathedral at Catholic University).

It featured John Garvey, president of Catholic University, Michael Sean Winters, a journalist with National Catholic Reporter, and Jay W. Richards, from “The Stream”, moderated by Marian L. Tupy.
I caught the last part of the video;  I had an appointment today and could not attend the event.
Fortune has “5 quotes” from Francis, where he has talked about the “idolatry of money” (as with the Golden Calf metaphor when Moses received the Ten Commandments), link here.  
The National Catholic Reporter Joshua J. McElwee reports that Francis defends his criticism of capitalism, here.
And Kevin Clarke, in the Washington Post, reports that Francis is no Marxist, but will challenge the world’s leading capitalist power, here
The Pope’s reported “dung of the devil” remark in Bolivia (near Lake Titicaca) has attracted controversy. He’s also attracted free trade and colonialism, and exploitation of low wages overseas.

At Cato, Richards drew a metaphor where there should be a meeting of “moralism” with “economism” – pragmatic regulation. But George Soros says that, calling for better regulation (after 2008).

A woman in the audience asked a question about liberation theology.  I recall hearing a sermon about this topic while driving a rental car through Nova Scotia in the fall of 1978.

An attorney, sounding rather moderate in his own views (like a mainstream Democrat) pointed out that capitalism changed in the 1980s from regulated capitalism, with some concern for the common good, to shareholder capitalism.  That in turn has led to excessive concern with short term earnings, to the detriment of long term future for a business.  That is simply a bad business model.

If you talk about the “common good”, or about countering “pauperism”, or containing the destabilizing effects of inequality, you have to drill down to some expectations about individual behavior, and cast these needs into a moral framework.  One idea would seem to be that if you benefit from inheritance or unearned advantage (supported by the unseen sacrifices of others) you must give back.  Inheritance by definition constrains some personal choice and autonomy. The idea of “you must” seems hard to reconcile with freedom.

There even is a concept as to how we should see others who are less “lucky”.  Should we simply remain harmless, or beneficial in ways that aren’t costly, or should we take up their causes and make them emotionally valuable.  I find this idea daunting, but it is the paradox around “minding your own business” that seems to drive a lot of parables in the Gospels.  It’s harder for the rich to make it to “heaven” (the Rich Young Ruler) because it is hard to reach out to someone whom by previous definition you must think less of.  Do we have to become “right-sized” and “live in one another’s shoes?”  Do we need a more distributed sense of consciousness?

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