Economics Will Not Be Mocked

by Mario Rizzo

A few years ago I read and studied in great detail Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical on globalization “Caritas in Veritate” or “Charity in Truth.” I posted a three-part analysis on the doubtful economics contained therein at ThinkMarkets. The first part is about the destructive influence of the encyclical. The second part is about globalization. The third part is about the attack on classical liberalism.

Shortly thereafter, I went to a conference that included discussion by economists of the encyclical. There were almost no defenders of the pope’s economics. In fact, I was told by one participant not to waste my time in a detailed examination of papal ideas relating to economics. No one in places of intellectual or policy influence much cares what the pope says. I was told that I care only because of my sixteen years of Catholic education. Perhaps this is all true; I do not know.  Nevertheless, the pope is worth listening to and reacting to because, in the modern world, there are few attempts by prominent public figures to address moral issues honestly.

The current statement of the “social gospel” by Pope Francis in “Evangelii Gaudium” or “The Joy of the Gospel” is less authoritative than the previous encyclical by Benedict insofar as it is considered simply an “apostolic exhortation” or pastoral letter. However, the ideas expressed are in keeping with the recent Church teaching. (Nevertheless, one cannot help thinking that Pope John-Paul II’s economics in the encyclical “Centesimus Annus” was much better than that expressed by the two most recent popes.)

I will not go into the details of the current letter because I think my previous comments on Pope Benedict at ThinkMarkets effectively cover most of these. I want now simply to make a “meta-critique” of Pope Francis’s letter only insofar as it deals with issues that have economic content. Continue reading

F.A. Hayek: His 114th Birthday

by Mario RizzoHayek as Street Art

Today is Hayek’s birthday. Much has been and will continue to written about him. When I look around at much of what passes for economics today, especially in the prestige circles, I cringe.  But reading his work always comforts me that something better is possible. And, in fact, there are many economists all over the world who take their inspiration from Hayek and his work. This is their day too!

Hayek, of course, was more than economist. He also had profound things to say about the mind, the rule of law, and ethics. Recently, I saw a stark example of the difference in ethical thinking between Hayek and more conventional moralists. This was in the case of the tragic fire in a Bangladeshi factory making clothes for western companies. The new Pope Francis condemned it as an example of corporations only caring about their bottom-line.

Now there are legitimate issues, from the point of view of the individuals working in this and other such factories. Can they rely on the attestations of a certain degree of safety in their working environment? Before people can voluntary assume the risks associated with certain kinds of work they must have at least a pretty good idea of what those risks are.

And yet there is a more fundamental issue.  Workplace safety is a matter of degrees. It is a working condition that is part of the cost of labor. There is an inevitable tradeoff between wages and level of employment, on the one hand, and workplace safety on the other hand. In rich countries workers can afford to sacrifice something for greater workplace safety. This is all part of increasing wealth.

Now major corporations are re-thinking their use of factory labor in Bangladesh.  They don’t want the images of large numbers of dead ruining their reputations. Ostensibly, they will argue that since they cannot trust Bangladeshi authorities to keep the factories safe they will not deal with them. Voila, the moral stance. Continue reading

The Genius of Weber

by Gene Callahan

This semester, I am having the pleasure of teaching Max Weber‘s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism for the second time. Doing so is renewing my appreciation for one of the great works of social science.

Weber’s historical thesis is fascinating in itself, but what really makes the work is that it is a mini-study in how to historically investigate a social-science proposition, complete with asides on method were Weber explains what he is doing. He takes two situations that are in most respects the same (that of German Catholics and that of German Protestants) and notes a crucial difference (besides religion): the two populations have significantly different degrees of participation in the capitalist mode of economic organization (as of 1905). Continue reading

An Austrian in Rome

by Mario Rizzo

I am not sure how the following fits into the broader scheme of ThinkMarkets. However, it does reflect more or less what I have felt in visiting Rome.

…[Sigmund] Freud actually entered the Eternal City in 1901, nearly five years after his father’s death, not “to take vengeance on the Romans,” but as intellectual pilgrim and psycho-archeologist, in the footsteps of Wickelmann. He wrote, “It was an overwhelming experience for me, and, as you know, the fulfillment of a long-cherished wish. It was [also] slightly disappointing.” Freud described his varied reactions to three Romes: the third, modern, was “hopeful and likeable”; the second, Catholic Rome, with its “lie of salvation,” was “disturbing,” making him “incapable of putting out of my mind my own misery and all the other misery which I know to exist.” Onlyn the Rome of antiquity moved him to deep enthusiasm: “I could have worshipped the humble and mutilated remnant of the Temple of Minerva.”

(Note: The temple is to Minerva, Medica [the Doctor]. She was the virgin goddess of poetry, medicine, wisdom, commerce, weaving, crafts, magic, and the inventor of music.)

From: Carl E. Schorske, Fin-De-Siecle Vienna: Politics and Culture (New York: Vantage Books, 1961), p. 202

Infallible Evasion of Scandal?

by Mario Rizzo  

It was one of the great virtues of Lord Acton to have realized that the Catholic Church is subject to all of the imperfections of any other human institution, especially those with little transparency. The current sex-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church would have been of great concern to him. He was also concerned with the issue of papal infallibility on faith and morals. He opposed the doctrine and helped organize opposition to it at the First Vatican Council.  He lost this battle but remained a Catholic. He never really accepted the doctrine (although he kept a certain ambiguous stance toward it). He believed that it had no basis in history or theology.   Continue reading

Neither Charity Nor Truth, Part 3: The Attack on Classical Liberalism

by Mario Rizzo  

In this final installment of my analysis of the papal encyclical letter Caritas in Veritate I turn my attention to Benedict XVI’s positive ideas on globalization.  (I put the encyclical section numbers in parentheses.)  

Do not expect clear-cut statements or precise recommendations for policy. Do not even expect consistency. (There are actually some good parts as in Sections 57 and 58.)  

The encyclical bears the mark of a committee’s work, presumably approved by the pope. There are individual sections that stress different, and contrary, attitudes so it is difficult to come away with a clear picture. Anyone looking for real guidance will have to seek it elsewhere.  

Nevertheless, a certain grand vision is revealed about society. The pope seems to be an enemy of the idea of beneficial spontaneous ordering forces. Continue reading

Neither Truth Nor Charity, Part 2: Globalization and the Pope’s Discontents

by Mario Rizzo  

Throughout Pope Benedict XVI’s enclyclical (“Caritas in Veritate”) he stresses that scientific knowledge is not enough when trying to determine appropriate government policies or even individual actions. This is quite true.  

He fails, however, to appreciate in many specific instances and arguments the importance of the fact that that moral or ethical knowledge is also insufficient to determine appropriate government policy or individual actions. He pays lip service to this idea (Sec. 9, 30) but it rarely constrains him in practice, as we shall see. 

Now consider a specific issue.  

The pope is worried about the effect of globalization on the traditional welfare state. (Sec. 25) Continue reading

Neither Truth Nor Charity: The Destructive Influence of a Papal Encyclical

by Mario Rizzo  

Recently Pope Benedict XVI issued a papal letter (“encyclical”) called “Caritas in Veritate” [CV] or “Charity in Truth” which is largely about economic issues relating to globalization. While there have been some commentaries on it, two prominent ones (here and here) in the Wall Street Journal do not reveal how truly bad it is. It may be that the pressures of journalism are such that people read such documents too quickly. I am being charitable.   Continue reading