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Monday, August 19, 2002

Papal Economics-Pope John Paul II has been visiting his home turf of Poland, possibly for the last time. Before I plunge into the economics issue, I'll ask a question: did John Paul do in the Polack joke? He and the Solidarity movement both being in the news in the late 70s and early 80s has made Poland respectable and helped push that form of humor off the map; political correctness might have helped as well. The left (or at least NPR) was applauding the Pope's speech on Polish economics; this piece mirrors what I heard on the way in. The Pope proceeds to blast the dark side of the free market
He lashed out at the "whole civilization of desire and pleasure which is now lording it over us, profiting from various means of … seduction. Is this civilization or anti-civilization?" Poles were stunned by the pope's harsh words, and he went on to castigate them for their eagerness to ape the moral values and social norms of Western Europe. "And what should be the criteria for Europeanism?" he demanded. "Freedom? What kind of freedom? The freedom to take the life of an unborn child?"
The Pope's economic thoughts have critiqued both capitalism and socialism, making him the patron saint of the Third Way neosocialist crowd. The left was disappointed in that he didn't say anything about Polish entry into the EU this trip when he did support it three years ago, but they seems to like his tone. I don't know how to separate the hedonism that a free-market system encourages from the wealth-generation nature of the system. Mitigating the hedonistic nature is a function of the Church, not the government. By taxation you can reduce the wealth of the affluent, but it doesn't make them any more noble. High-tax regimes tend to stifle the desire to work, for it is rewarded less, but that doesn't make people less greedy and selfish. Many communist big-wigs were just as decadent as the rest of us; their people didn't have the luxury of being decadent. We have a system that helps create a level of wealth were we can allow ourselves to be decadent. My old joke as a kid was that the height of American decadence was diet dog food-not only are we fat, but our pets are. In many corners of the world, the dog would create a good meal for a hungry family. Our wealth allows us to not have to worry about our daily bread; such an abundant life is a blessing. I'm picturing that Rockwell "Freedom From Want" picture with the Thanksgiving turkey front and center. Socialism doesn't do that quite as well. The left likes to use the phrase "You can't legislate morality." You can legislate against immorality and punish it, but it's hard to legislate against hedonism. Do we ban yachts? Jetskis? Summer cottages? Dinners costing more than $20? A good sirloin steak? We can legislate against actions against or with another person, but fighting hedonism doesn't fit well into a legal paradigm. The only good way to try and fight hedonism is to fight wealth and I don't think we want to go there. Let the economy take care of itself, and let the church work on changing the hedonistic character of the people. [Update 5:15PM -Peter Sean Bradley points out in the comments section that the Pope largely agrees with me-"As for JPII's hectoring of hedonism, I take it that he's not calling for state intervention, but individual renewal." The 1991 encyclical on economics backs a free-market system, but does recognize that the market isn't perfect. The encyclical doesn't support the Third Way crowd as much as they think it does; all they read is the headline that the Pope criticized both capitalism and socialism and think he's one of them. I haven't listed to too much NPR since moving to Florida in June, given shorter commutes and better Christian music channels in central Florida. My tolerance for liberal blather has gone down and I had a reflexive conservative reaction to a verbal steaming pile. I was going after the statists more than I was going after the Pope]

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