Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Pope Sort of Talks Econ Again

I’ll happily take “chaotic” markets over the Pope’s vague vision of some centralized global regulatory body with “human-centered” goals (as opposed to dingo-centered ones, maybe?  or as opposed to leadership by sentient piles of money and nineteenth-century cartoons of plutocrats?).  Division and competition are good, unity and control by regulators bad.

The Pope’s latest wading into economic analysis is a reminder that religious pronouncements about markets (usually harping on their selfishness and limitations) are best seen not as some sort of divine socialism but merely as a recurring form of economic illiteracy (though in many Islamic countries and in medieval Europe, religious authorities have had the actual legal power to back up their bad ideas about econ, making them as dangerous as any starvation-inducing socialist regime).  Not surprisingly, such pronouncements, in the case of twenty-first-century European religious leaders, are steeped in pro-world-government sentiment, environmentalism, and other predictable, fashionable pap that ought to be beneath a revered old institution.  But then…

Catholic traditions even at their most long-lived are only 2,000 years old, whereas commerce goes back to the dawn of humanity — just as the laws of econ and physics are far older (and arguably far more deserving of deference) than the favored few traditions of the traditionalists, even by their own internal logic.  Even science as a discipline, which is obviously younger than the actual laws of physics, is arguably at least as old as Protestantism, if not, by some measures, as old as Catholicism — unless we want to count things like Aristotle’s empiricism as science, of course.  At what point does science finally start getting the respect traditionalists claim is owed to old things?

(And even if you buy the idea that tradition accumulates wisdom from the ongoing iterations of human trial and error — as I do — might we not still logically have to assign greater weight to modernity’s contributions to the process if modernity has involved more people undergoing faster iterations, due to population increases and technological advances?)

In any case, the Pope should stay out of econ (and paleo-inclined folks should avoid thinking distributivism or front porch conservatism or whatever they’re calling it these days is going to keep us from starving in our shacks, if that sort of extreme localism, or “green anarchism” for that matter, ever replaces global markets — though at least the Pope endorsed globalism, so he isn’t all bad).  Render unto Adam Smith what is Adam Smith’s.  (Caesar gets nothing, though, nor should his more spiritual imperial heirs.)

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