Friday, November 29, 2013

On the Economics of Pope Francis's Evangelii Gaudium

Fr. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, responds thoughtfully to the views on economics and poverty expressed in Pope Francis's Apostolic Exhortation.  Where do unfettered, unregulated markets even exist and who even advocates them?  On the difference between crony (or state) capitalism, which prevails in Latin America and elsewhere, and real capitalism, see the excellent paper of Jesse Norman, MP, "Conservative Free Markets, and the Case for Real Capitalism." Norman makes the case for real capitalism - "the greatest tool of wealth creation, social advance and economic development ever known" - but says we are living through an age of crony capitalism.

Here's an interesting article from The Atlantic, by someone who's a speed reader or had an advance copy under embargo.

At this Thanksgiving holiday time, we would do well to remember the Pilgrims' experience.  John Stossel points out that Pilgrims, who held property in common, were saved from starvation for two years by Indians. Then Governor Bradford figured out that private property, capitalism, individual ownership of fields, was the solution to having enough food to eat.

Here's a much quoted passage by Blessed John Paul the Great, who has a more nuanced approach, where he endorses capitalism rightly understood.  As Adam Smith argued, free markets are not only key to the wealth of nations.  They also depend on a moral basis that is indispensable - the free market requires and builds certain virtues (honesty, diligence, creativity, responsibility, initiative, responsible risk-taking, prudence, courage, justice and the avoidance of certain vices - cronyism, corruption, bureaucratic interference, etc.  As all the popes from Leo XIII on say, socialism is bad, evil in all its forms; capitalism needs a proper juridical framework and regulation.  So they all opposed "unfettered capitalism" or strong libertarianism and the kind of individualism that leads people into selfishness and ignoring social problems and the plight of the poor and exploited.  They say, socialism NO, capitalism, yes but (the but standing for tendencies to materialism and greed, seeing economic freedom as the only freedom, etc.).

It seems the difference between JP II and Francis lies in the latter's seeing the market as somehow causing poverty instead of being key to eliminating or reducing it, as Governor Bradford came to see.

Here's the much quoted start of para #42 in John Paul II's social encyclical, Centesimus Annus:

42. Returning now to the initial question: can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this the model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path to true economic and civil progress?

The answer is obviously complex. If by "capitalism" is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a "business economy", "market economy" or simply "free economy". But if by "capitalism" is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative.
Of course, it doesn't help that there seems to be a serious error in the English translation, giving a key passage a slant that is not there in the original.  Fr. Z explains here.

See also this Poverty Cure video on what really helps the poor and what harms them:

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Rethinking Marriage and Divorce in Scandinavia

Norway rethinks its acceptance of divorce

The News Story - Norway's mission reposition: state says date nights key to good marriage

At least one of the Nordic countries — that paradise of social progressivism — seems to be rethinking its earlier disregard for the institution of marriage.  Solveig Horne, the new Minister for Children, Equality, and Social Inclusion in Norway’s Populist government, recently suggested that to curb a 40% divorce rate, Norwegian married couples should institute “date nights.”

Reports the Guardian, Horne “said the government needed to cut divorce rates – and that encouraging couples to try date nights was a good place to start.”  “It is important to find small pockets of time where parents can be lovers," said Horne, who believes that she may have saved her own marriage through date nights and other similar efforts.

From a nation that has embraced cohabitation as a social norm, such enthusiasm for restoring marriages is surprising — and welcome.  Research indicates that nearby Nordic nations would do well to imitate.

The New Research - Sweden No Paradise for Young Adults
The progressive government of Sweden promises health and well-being, as well as economic security, to all. Yet a study by social scientists in Spain and Sweden finds not all is well in the socialist paradise. Documenting a “deterioration of psychological well-being” among young adults there—a decline related to increased rates of parental divorce—the study establishes that the link between parental divorce in childhood and psychological distress in adulthood remains as robust as it was forty years ago.

Using longitudinal data from two waves (1968 and 2000) of the Swedish Level of Living Survey, Michael Gähler and Anna Garriga compare the impact of parental divorce on the psychological adjustment of 19- to 34-year-olds from two generations of Swedes (the first born between 1934 and 1949; the second between 1966 and 1981). Their findings put to rest the notion—widely advanced among progressive scholars—that as alternative family forms have become more prevalent and accepted, as they are in this European haven, the negative impact of parental divorce on children has faded.

Reviewing their descriptive findings, the researchers found that the occurrence of experiencing parental divorce or separation was four times more likely among the younger cohort of Swedes (21 percent) than the older cohort (5 percent). Likewise, while only one-fourth of the older cohort reported psychological distress as measured with six variables in 1968, nearly one-half (45 percent) of the younger cohort reported such distress in 2000. Stating the obvious, Gähler and Garriga note: “Psychological problems have increased substantially among young Swedes during recent decades.”

Using multivariate analysis, the researchers are able to place the blame for this increased angst squarely where it belongs. Controlling for gender, age, country of origin, and parental education, they established that among respondents of each generation, those who grew up in a broken home were more likely to suffer from emotional problems in adulthood than were peers from an intact family. In the older generation, the risk of emotional pathology ran twice as high among the adult children from broken homes as it did among peers from intact families. In the younger cohort, the relative risk of such pathology fell almost by half among the adult children of broken homes. However, despite this sharp fall in the relative risk, the correlation between family structure and emotional pathology remained statistically significant (p < 0.01) for both age cohorts.

Moreover, a pooled-data analysis revealed no statistically significant reduction in the magnitude of the negative parental-divorce impact on young adults between the generation of 2000 and that of 1968. As the two sociologists write: “Individuals whose parents divorced during the period 1966–1997 do not report a higher psychological well-being as 19- to 34-year-olds, compared to individuals from an intact family background, than do corresponding individuals whose parents divorced during the period 1934–1965.”

Though it may disappoint those who think government programs can level the playing field, the researchers found that the economic disparities between both family types did not lessen between 1968 and 2000, a period when the Swedish welfare system stepped up its income-redistribution efforts. To be sure, respondents from both family types reported less economic hardship in 2000, but the decline among respondents from intact families who reported economic hardship in childhood (from 13 percent to 8 percent) was relatively greater than the decline among respondents from non-intact families (from 31 percent to 21 percent).

Given these outcomes, Gähler and Garriga have every reason to lament the “deterioration of psychological well-being” among young adults in Sweden. Now if only scholars and policymakers in America would do the same, and look to the strengthening of the family—not the welfare state—as the answer.

(Source: Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson, “New Research,” The Family in America, Fall 2012, Vol. 26 Number 3. Study: Michael Gähler and Anna Garriga, “Has the Association Between Parental Divorce and Young Adults’ Psychological Problems Changed Over Time? Evidence from Sweden, 1968–2000,” Journal of Family Issues34.6 [June 2013]: 784-808.)
This article has been republished with permission from The Family in America, a publication of The Howard Center. The Howard Center is a MercatorNet partner site.
This article is published by and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.
- See more at:

Fr. Robert Barron comments on David Bentley Hart's The Experience of God

Fr. Barron comments on who God is and who God is not.  He discusses key points in David Bentley Hart's great new book.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Father's Importance - by Sheila Liaugminas

 5 Nov 2013 

He’s supposed to be the rock, the head of the family, the protector, in the right order of things.

But classic family identity roles are under tremendous cultural pressure and social commentators won’t dare talk in those terms anymore. That doesn’t change the truth.

My father passed away last week and the impact of that loss is huge and clarifying. He was elderly and broken and diminished by late stage Parkinson’s, but still dignified and honorable. Even in his most broken and vulnerable years, when those qualities were less obvious, he was always who he was, and that was dignified and honorable, deep within. He embodied values up for cultural debate these days, so his life is instructive.

Some brief background…

Children aren’t born with biases, they are learned. I didn’t learn them and so when my first trip out of the Midwest as a child was to the deep south with my father, I was mortified to see the reality of segregation. My father always told the story of when we were in a drugstore and I saw a sign at a water fountain designating (in cruder terms) that it was for whites only. He said I shouted ‘Dad!’ (as if he was the only one who could hear me since he was the one I was imploring). ‘Dad, they can’t treat people that way! Do something!’ I was a little human rights activist.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of my heroes and even as a youngster I followed his marches and speeches. When my high school introduced the first African American studies class, I was the first one to sign up. We read the ‘Autobiography of Malcolm X’ and discussed it, and I listened and learned more than I spoke.

We aren’t listening anymore (maybe some people never did). We’re certainly blurting quickly and often, in a knee-jerk reaction. Some people never have an unuttered thought, facilitated by the Internet and all the means of social networking. Dialogue and exchange is good, attacks are not. Attacks are happening often. Indefensible assaults are happening often. We’re lashing out at ‘the other’, as Pope Francis refers to the classes of people who make us ‘uncomfortable.’  People are so ready to impugn reputations, question motives, doubt intellect or integrity when someone expresses a thought or shares information that is even perceived as running counter to what they believe. At what cost? Pride? Ego? A perceived ‘gotcha’ moment?

Pope Francis has been getting at this from the beginning of his papacy, every time he talks about being ‘self-referential’, needing to get outside ourselves.

Author and blogger Elizabeth Scalia was my guest for a very engaging hour of reflection on all this because her book Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life became a more powerful indictment than even she imagined it would when it was published and Pope Francis was soon after elected to the papacy and began talking about idolatry and making idols of ourselves and our beliefs. Both of us being bloggers, both being women in media who try to bring the core truths of right and wrong, human dignity and right order in the world into our work, always seeking to understand it and do it better, we had a lot to talk about. And realized, together, that the gut-check for false idols has become a daily necessity.

It’s humbling to go searching for where the truth may lie, even if it’s beyond what we may have thought or believed. But refreshingly challenging and freeing. My father was very instrumental in that quest, that burning desire to search for truth and engage.

Long before I ever heard the terms ‘Catholic social teaching’ or ‘social justice’, I learned them from my father who fed the poor and hungry, brought comfort to the afflicted, gave work and purpose and dignity to the impaired. I was his ‘little sidekick’ on these missions, and it bred an adult who seeks constantly to be a peacemaker, a unifier, a bridgebuilder, a caretaker. Without compromising the truth of human dignity at the core of the mission.

Just hours after learning of my father’s passing, I had an important speaking engagement as the keynote speaker and panel moderator at a medical professionals event. I kept it in honor of my father, and the dignity our family and his healthcare providers showed him throughout his final years of life. Everyone has that dignity, and everyone deserves for it to be recognized and honored.

At his poignant funeral Mass, the Beatitudes spoke eloquently of his life. While we’re all fussing and sniping over the politics of healthcare law and political scandals and state elections and partisanship and hot-button social issues, my father’s funeral Mass helped me re-set the importance of life lived in service to others, with faith as the moral compass.

I chose the prayer for the program that seemed to suit his life purpose the best, the one commonly attributed to St. Francis.

Peace Prayer
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen. Thank you, Dad, for your witness to human dignity and the care of the feeble, impaired, disabled, elderly, suffering, lonely, despairing and forgotten. They will always have a champion in you, and your legacy.
This article is published by and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.
- See more at: