The Vatican recently released a report on “the present economic-financial system” of the world that is typical of all pronouncements about economics from the Catholic Church bureaucracy: It is astoundingly ignorant of even elementary economic concepts, and is written in the language of a C-/D+ high school writing assignment. There is confusion over the definition of very simple economic concepts like profit and GDP. There are 49 footnotes, but none of them makes reference to any economic literature. They are mostly speeches by Catholic clergy who don’t seem to have much knowledge at all of the subject they are pontificating about.
Entitled “Oeconomicae et pecuniariae quaestiones”, the report expresses alarm about “the growing influence of financial markets on the material well-being of most of humankind” and urges more government intervention, more regulation, more politics, more welfarism, more central planning, more taxes, and less freedom. As I said, it is typical of all such pronouncements about “Catholic social teaching” in the area of economics.
The first assumption the report makes is that there are no ethical guidelines in markets. The report then declares that the economy “needs ethics in order to function correctly.” And the kind of ethics needs to be “people-centred (sic),” says the Vatican. Well, yah. Is there any other kind of ethics other than human-centered? Robot-centered?? Does no one in the business world have any ethical guidelines, as the Vatican asserts?
There are almost too many straw-man arguments in the Vatican report to count. One of the first ones is the contention that in “our contemporary age” the “human person” is understood “individualistically,” which is assumed to be an immoral thing. Worse yet, he is viewed “predominantly as a consumer, whose “profit” consists only in “the optimization of his or her income.” There may be a few people who judge others according to the size of their bank accounts, but to claim that this is a pervasive characteristic of “our contemporary age” is absurd. Even mainstream economics models consumers as “utility” maximizers, not income maximizers.
One would think the Catholic Church would support the classical liberal philosophy of individualism, defined by F.A. Hayek in The Road to Serfdom as simply respect for the individual – all individuals – and rejection of the notion that individuals should become pawns or slaves of government authorities. But no, as a collection of hardened collectivists and Marxist ideologues the Vatican denounces individualism.
He is (rightly) a little harsher and more technical in his critique than I was in my initial report. I’m still pleased the Church called, in summation, for individual awareness and action regarding these matters. The awareness starts with real understanding. That’s why I called for a professional assessment. We have it now. All good and well in the sancto-economic world.
*No cats here, today.