About This Blog

Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) was the greatest economist of my time. His greatest works can be accessed here at no charge.

Mises believed that property, freedom and peace are and should be the hallmarks of a satisfying and prosperous society. I agree. Mises proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the prospect for general and individual prosperity is maximized, indeed, is only possible, if the principle of private property reigns supreme. What's yours is yours. What's mine is mine. When the line between yours and mine is smudged, the door to conflict opens. Without freedom (individual liberty of action) the principle of private property is neutered and the free market, which is the child of property and freedom and the mother of prosperity and satisfaction, cannot exist. Peace is the goal of a prosperous and satisfying society of free individuals, not peace which is purchased by submission to the enemies of property and freedom, but peace which results from the unyielding defense of these principles against all who challenge them.

In this blog I measure American society against the metrics of property, freedom and peace.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

I'm Sorry, Pope, But You're A Dumb Ass!

Recently, Pope Francis published an "exhortation" to his faithful flock titled "Evangelii Gaudium." Here is an excerpt:
While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule. 
I defy anyone who respects logic, economics, social cooperation and, indeed, reality itself to make sense of this paragraph. It verges on the unintelligible and the delusional, yet it is meant to guide the thinking and actions of millions of Catholics the world over. What does it mean? I don't know exactly, however, I can speculate on what I think it means...

Assuming whoever wrote it was not high on crack and describing some narcotic-induced dream, it seems to trade on the well-worn, Marxist canard that the people of the world are divided into two definitive classes: rich and poor. The rich, an oligarchic minority are exponentially more prosperous than the poor, an unprivileged majority. The rich are exploiters; the poor, the exploited. The rich are happy; the poor not, either because their poverty is absolutely unbearable or because it is simply unfair relative to the exaggerated wealth of the rich.

Of course this class ideology is completely imagined and unrealistic. The world's people are not so bifurcated. That there are nearly infinite degrees of wealth and happiness in the world's individuals cannot be denied. Moreover, there are hundreds of economics systems, regulated to various degrees, currently operating in states throughout the world.

Nevertheless, the Pope endeavors to explain how and why the people of the world came to exist in such a bifurcated class society. He claims the bifurcation is "imbalanced" and the classes are the result of "ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation."

Is the Pope here indicting free market capitalism? The insinuation seems plain. However, the ideology of free market capitalism does not hold that markets are absolutely autonomous. Neither does it hold that these markets tyrannize anyone, or unilaterally impose their "own laws and rules" on anyone. Free market capitalism holds that participation in markets is voluntary and that these markets are free from third party coercion or intervention.

In this sense, the ideology of free markets "reject[s] the right of states...to exercise any form of control" over the market, whether or not those in charge of the state feel "charged with vigilance for the common good."

The ideology of free market capitalism imagined by the Pope exists nowhere in this world, and if it doesn't exist, how could it result in any sort of real world consequences. Contrarily, everywhere we look in the real world we see states exercising control over markets and market participants, states which are usually acting under the assumed authority of "vigilance for the common good." If there is any tyranny involved in economic systems, it is the tyranny of the state relentlessly imposing its laws and rules upon the market.

Indeed, when the Pope writes that debt "and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power," he seems to be referring to the common state practices of accumulating mountains of public debt and debasing the money supply. The rest of the paragraph, which deals with corruption, tax evasion and the thirst for power, applies more appropriately to actors employed by the state than voluntary participants in the market.

The Pope then makes a passing swipe at the profit motive which, admittedly, motivates market participants. However, he mentions nothing of the greed that motivates state politicians and bureaucrats to no less a degree. And, to allege that "whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market" and "increased profits," is pure fantasy and demagoguery. If the Pope thinks that the state cannot and does not impose its laws and rules on the marketplace to defend "whatever is fragile, like the environment," then he is sadly isolated from reality.

Indeed, the clear thrust of the Pope's message is to advocate more controls on markets which are already heavily controlled, and to call for more state rules and laws where they now exist in abundance. In fact, the Pope seems to think that state seizure of the private assets of those who own more private property and the coercive redistribution of these assets to those who, for one reason or another have less, are the means to creating a more peaceful and less violent society of happier individuals.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Can anyone honestly agree with the Pope that having the state rob Peter to pay Paul is the formula for a conflict-free society of happy individuals?

Well, the Pope for one does believe what he says and others who think like him believe it as well. Why? Because the Pope and his sycophants have a different idea of private property and, consequently, of theft than you, I and most every other individual on earth who lives in society.

To illustrate just how out of whack the Pope's idea of theft is, simply consider the following quotation from the Pope's exhortation to his flock:
"Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs.
The quotation is from one of the "sages of antiquity," Saint John Chrysostom. Saint John lived and studied theology back in the 4th century, well before economics was even a glint in Adam Smith's eye.

Taken as a moral guide for the voluntary actions of private individuals -- in other words, in a theological context -- Saint John's words might be considered allegorical and instructive. However, considered in the context of sociological and economic truth, Saint John's words are contradictory nonsense.

If the Pope truly believes these words should guide the policies and actions of "financial experts and political leaders" in states the world over, then Pope Francis can only be described as a socially and economically illiterate dumb ass.

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