Distributists and followers of the “Austrian school” of free market economics are notoriously at odds with each other over what constitutes a just economic order. We disagree, at times vigorously, on how to structure an economy that best guarantees the rights of the family and that offers the best opportunities for prosperity and liberty. We do not even agree whether Catholic social teaching really applies (we Distributists think it does).
But if there is one institution that could unite us, even if it unites us only in opposition, it is the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace.
The PCJP on Monday published a document, “Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Political Authority.” The best thing that can be said about it is that it is not a Magisterial document, and that the PCJP is a low-level Vatican bureaucracy—a distinction that will be lost on the mainstream media and non-Catholics.
At best, “ Towards Reforming” is problematic, with some downright frightening prescriptions for reshaping the worldwide economy. At worst, it is a blueprint for a George Soros agenda that at the same time will feed the worst Fundamentalist paranoid fantasies about “the whore of Babylon” and her desires for world domination. It calls for nothing less than the establishment of a worldwide government, which it calls, variously, “a supranational Authority,” a “world Authority,” a “world political Authority,” a “global government,” or with ominous simplicity, the “Authority.”
“Towards Reforming” begins well enough. Since the Catholic Church has a divinely instituted mission to unite all peoples in Christ, “Towards Reforming” rightly states, “Every individual and every community shares in and is responsible for promoting the common good.”
Then we get a summary of the financial history of the past few decades, including the inflation in the 1970s and 80s that was “related to the sudden sharp rise in oil prices.” Easy credit in the 1990s caused “speculative bubbles which later turned into a series of solvency and confidence crises.” The Note mentions “the outbreak of the crisis in 2008” that was “characterized by a different factor compared with the previous ones, something decisive and explosive,” without really saying what that “something” was. However: “Generated in the context of the United States, it took place in one of the most important zones for the global economy and finances. It directly affected what is still the currency of reference for the great majority of international trade transactions.”
This financial crisis had “consequences for the real economy,” particularly in construction, and “a negative trend in production and international trade with very serious repercussions for employment as well as other effects that have probably not yet had their full impact.”
On a few things, the Note is correct, such as when it decries the exponentially widening gulf between the rich and the poor. While worldwide income rose steadily in the twentieth century, “At the same time, the distribution of wealth did not become fairer but in many cases worsened.”
“Don’t Mention the… Usury!”
So far, there seems to be little to argue with, but what is notable is what is missing. While “Towards Reforming” blames the financial crisis on too-easy credit and too much lending, it makes no mention of usury, and the omission may be linked to the embarrassing practices of the Vatican bank.
And despite all the talk about easy credit, lending, and international trade, the Note makes no mention of ruinous deficit spending by governments. There is not a single mention of the crippling, mounting debt that governments, particularly Western governments, continue to run up. On the contrary, “Towards Reforming” suggests “taxation measures on financial transactions” and, euphemistically, “forms of recapitalization of banks with public funds.” In other words, more taxes, and more spending, including bank bailouts. How has that worked so far? And how does it serve justice to shield financial executives from the consequences of bad decisions?
Furthermore, and even more inexcusably, “Towards Reforming” omits any mention of how banks in the United States were encouraged by federal law to sell home mortgages to people who could not afford them. If the Pontifical Council cares about justice, how can it fail to excoriate Congress for shackling the poor to the usurer’s chain, all in the name of a “right” to become a homeowner? The Catechism of the Catholic Church identifies shelter as an “essential need,” and private property ownership is a sacred right. But no man should be oppressed by usury, so that he is unable to acquire productive property and is forced to live beyond his means, going into debt beyond his ability to pay.
Finally, while “Towards Reforming” contains plenty of talk about international trade, nation-states, and the different problems faced by developed and developing countries, it does not defend the family as the basic unit of society. There is no mention of wages, just or otherwise. There is no mention of the family as the source of social cohesion, or of how strong families are the best guarantee of liberty in any society, including economic liberty. Indeed, tellingly, the Note seems not to be addressed to ordinary people at all, but to global elites. Indeed, starting with Paul VI, this appears to be the direction the Church has been taking, focusing on macro- instead of microeconomics. With respect to “Towards Reforming,” maybe there is a reason for this.
The Note condemns capitalism (“economic liberalism”) as
a theoretical system of thought, a form of ‘economic apriorism’ that purports to derive laws for how markets function from theory, these being laws of capitalistic development, while exaggerating certain aspects of markets….without measuring them against reality.
This is directed at Western neoconservatives, who need to hear it. But here it is merely an appetizer. A few paragraphs later, we get to the meat: the call for a global political and financial authority. To be fair, the promotion of a global authority to help manage an increasingly interconnected global economy is nothing new, and the Note cites Bl. Pope John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris and Pope Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate. The Pontifical Councilors are rightly wary of strong nations joining to serve their collective self-interests, to the detriment of weak nations. No Distributist can object to this.
Whoops! Man is Fallen. Who knew?
Even so, I do not see how we can find the call for a global financial authority anything but unsettling.
For instance, how does a global financial authority accord with subsidiarity, which requires “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order”? (CCC no. 1883) Quoting from Caritas in Veritate, the Note does mention subsidiarity. It names subsidiarity as the bulwark against “the danger of a central Authority’s bureaucratic isolation…which would otherwise risk being delegitimized by an excessive distance from the realities on which it is based and easily fall prey to paternalistic, technocratic or hegemonic temptations.”
Of course, but in the context of the entire Note, the appeal to subsidiarity remains superficial. In any case, how does the Pontifical Council think such an arrangement would work in our (fallen!) world?
This is the Note’s biggest failure: it has forgotten that man is fallen. Like some capitalists who tout salvation through free, unfettered markets, and like some Distributists who tout salvation through a back-to-the-land, off-the-grid lifestyle, the Note omits the most basic fact of human history: that man, through greed, stupidity, laziness, or any other vice, can pervert even the most just economic and social arrangements.
Resorting to psychobabble, “Towards Reforming” declares, “By freeing his imagination, man frees his existence.” And while it does not outright advocate the type of earthly, secularist paradise that littered the twentieth century, the Note encourages “an effort of community imagination,” that will “transform not only institutions but also lifestyles and encourage a better future for all peoples.” Without reference to Christ’s Mystical Body on earth, the Catholic Church, this is meaningless, and may even be dangerous. (I thought we freed our existence by placing our faith in Jesus Christ….)
The Lord of the World
Returning to practical matters, who does the Pontifical Council want to manage this world political Authority?
It would seem logical for the reform process to proceed with the United Nations as its reference because of the worldwide scope of its responsibilities, its ability to bring together the nations of the world, and the diversity of its tasks and those of its specialized Agencies.
The United Nations? You mean, the same United Nations that put Saudi Arabia on its human rights commission? The same United Nations whose “diversity of tasks” includes pushing abortion and contraception in every developing nation on earth? And speaking of global institutions, again, while “Towards Reforming” rightly condemns the growing disparity between the world’s rich and poor, this disparity has certainly been aided and abetted by such existing global institutions as the UN, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, GATT, NAFTA, and so on. Yet the members of the Pontifical Council, with straight faces, call for yet another “global Authority.”
“Towards Reforming” almost sneers at national sovereignty, decrying nationalism that “has lingered on, according to which the State feels it can achieve the good of its own citizens in a self-sufficient way.” Instead, the Note argues, “It has become natural to think of an international community that is integrated and increasingly ruled by a shared system.” Therefore,
Conditions exist for definitively going beyond a ‘Westphalian’ international order in which the States feel the need for cooperation but do not seize the opportunity to integrate their respective sovereignties for the common good of peoples.
While alliances and cooperation between nations are preferable to conflict and dog-eat-dog competition, where in Catholic social teaching do we find any support for “integrating respective sovereignties”?
“Towards Reforming” brooks no dissent:
It is the task of today’s generation to recognize and consciously to accept these new world dynamics for the achievement of a universal common good. Of course, this transformation will be made at the cost of a gradual, balanced transfer of a part of each nation’s powers to a world Authority and to regional Authorities.
So we will have Regional Authorities too? The imagery that arises is that of the Mouth of Sauron, happily sitting in an Orthanc left vacant by a deposed Saruman. I would charitably submit to the good clerics on the PCJP that (as Gandalf warned) Sauron does not share power.
Finally, how does “Towards Reforming” foresee implementing its world Authority? Early on, it admits, “A supranational Authority of this kind should have a realistic structure and be set up gradually,” and says it “cannot be imposed by force, coercion or violence, but should be the outcome of a free and shared agreement and a reflection of the permanent and historic needs of the world common good.”
Near the end of the document, however, we get this: “However, it should not be forgotten that this development, given wounded human nature, will not come about without anguish and suffering.”
Does it really say this? Echoing the excuse that Saruman made to Gandalf, the Pontifical Council seems to be “deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose.” Chilling.
I do not pretend to know the motives or the intentions of the members of the Pontifical Council. All I know is what I read, and what I read in “Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Political Authority” is a call for a false, earthly paradise, one that is divorced from Christ and His Church. And here is the Note’s biggest omission: it says not a single word about Grace, the Sacraments—especially the Holy Eucharist—or the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ on earth, through which man can achieve some measure of justice and peace in a fallen world, but which always points to our true home: the world beyond this one, where we will join the saints before the Holy Trinity in Heaven.