Pope Francis has issued an apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, in which he made comments about economics that merit serious discussion.
A new Catholic teaching?
It has been widely reported that he has criticized “trickle down” economic policies and the unregulated free market. Unfortunately, some of these comments were taken out of context, and some pundits and organs of the major media have interpreted them to be a revision of Catholic social teaching on economic matters.
First, it should be noted that the Holy Father explicitly denies that his remarks are a revision of Catholic social teaching, and he specifically refers the reader to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.
In one respect, his criticism of certain economic policies and practices is no different whatsoever from traditional Catholic social teaching, insofar as he stresses, as the Magisterium of the Church has constantly stressed, the importance of the dignity of the human person and the necessity of avoiding a secular materialism which amounts to not only idolatry, but a coarsening of one’s sensitivity toward the welfare of one’s fellow man.
Understanding the free market: Lessons from history
Pope Francis’ criticism of an unregulated free market is also completely in conformity with traditional Church social teachings. For any effective free market to work efficiently, there must be a rule of law, which is what distinguishes morally ordered liberty from anarchy and license.
A problem emerges, however, when the Holy Father criticizes an unregulated free market as if such a thing exists anywhere in the world today. To which free markets does he refer?
I, for one, am concerned that there has been a longstanding misapprehension about the free market system among many people in the Catholic Church. I remember vividly Catholic clergymen and nuns who took sides with communist revolutionaries in Central America in the 1970s and ‘80s out of their opposition to economic injustice in selected Central American countries. It was assumed that many of the leading families and businesses in these countries were the instruments of a fundamentally unjust capitalist system, and that this was how “free enterprise” worked.
The problem then was that the economic system in those countries was far from being a free enterprise system. It was closer to being a system of economic oligarchy or dirigisme. It was a system where massive government regulation (a system imported to Latin America by colonial Spain) set the stage for pervasive corruption. One could not do business without having to procure an inordinate number of government licenses and permits. The bureaucrats who issued these permits had a built-in incentive to delay their issuance, and, as a matter of standard practice, demanded bribes to release them.
The people who were able to conduct business were therefore not those who could offer the best product at the lowest price, but those who were ready to bribe (i.e. cheat) or who had connections.
This is not free enterprise — it is corruption. This is not capitalism — it is crony capitalism. It is fundamentally unjust, and those who opposed it on grounds of injustice were right.
But the result was that economically uninformed but compassionate clergy and religious became unwitting supporters of the replacement of one unjust system with a system marked by even greater injustice and human suffering.
I hope that illusions about what constitutes a free market system are not what will drive the discussion about just economic policy — whether in the Catholic Church or in our own policy making in America.
On December 5, 2013, John Lenczowski introduced LTG Michael T. Flynn, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, at the 18th Annual Pearl Harbor Day Lecture at The Institute of World Politics. A C-SPAN video can be found here, and a video from IWP is below.
The combination of dictatorial powers’ growing strength and America’s increasing weakness is the perfect formula for destabilizing behavior by bad actors in the world. This is all too often the result of what strategists call “provocative weakness” – where those bad actors believe that they can advance their aggressive interest with less likelihood of serious resistance by the United States or its allies.
As China has grown economically and has pursued its double-digit annual increases in its military buildup for about two decades, it has begun to flex its muscles in its East Asian neighborhood. It is claiming almost the entire territory of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. It pursues a policy of “shard diplomacy,” where it alleges that wherever a shard of an antique China plate or vase is discovered in any neighboring territory, that that territory once belonged to China and therefore still belongs to China. It has been claiming island territories that are under the control of neighboring countries, such as Japan and the Philippines.
And now, it has just announced the establishment of an “Air-Defense Identification Zone” covering the larger part of the East China Sea. The ADIZ includes the airspace over the disputed Senkaku-Diaoyu islands that are currently controlled by Japan, as well as part of the Leodo reef in the Yellow Sea that is controlled by South Korea. China is requiring that foreign aircraft obtain permission to enter this airspace, and it reserves the right to take military action against intruders.
Air Defense Identification Zones have no basis in international law, and are invariably set up by individual nations unilaterally. In this case, China’s ADIZ overlaps with those of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.
Fortunately, the United States has not permitted this zone to be activated without challenge. The Defense Department sent two B-52 bombers precisely into this zone and over the disputed islands without following Beijing’s instructions that it should seek permission in advance.
Although the bombers were unarmed and were part of what Pentagon officials described as a long-planned training exercise, their flight to this zone represents one comforting continuity in American defense policy – namely, America’s longstanding commitment to freedom of the seas and freedom to navigate in international airspace.
Again, fortunately, China did not choose to intercept these bombers. But the fact that it was necessary to send them on this mission represents a deterioration in China’s perception of the credibility of America’s deterrent forces. If that credibility erodes further, and Beijing becomes ever more emboldened in its expansionism to challenge the United States and our allies in the region (Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Taiwan), the chances of military confrontation escalating to the use of force increases commensurately.
While the administration is to be commended for not abandoning a time-honored policy of protecting air and sea-based navigation, it should recognize the latest Chinese action for what it is: a warning that weakness is less likely to guarantee peace than strength.