Elist Discussion: Economics, Round 2

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Secondary topics: Dorothy Day

 

 

CET #15-, July 2000

 

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000
From: "Michael Smith"
Subject: Economics and voluntary poverty

Hi, all:

I just couldn't remain silent any longer.

Several points on economics: 1. Did Dorothy Day really say that to enjoy luxury was to steal from the poor? If so she was an idiot. If she is made a saint will I have to retract my words and consider all her beliefs infallible? Try this: Imagine making a million dollars (legally, morally) wihout helping anyone. A rich man built a huge mansion near here in the depths of the Great Depression. It kept many families busy working -- and well fed-- for about three years.

2. How could she justify wearing an expensive ring -- using the excuse that Christ was annointed with expensive oil. Was she Christ?

3. Was she an anarchist? If so, she violated Church teachings which tell us government is natural and good.

4. Is not voluntary poverty made possible by all the huge investment per worker made possible by the evil capitalist system--the absence of which would make everyone involuntarily poor?

5. Name the countries in which the lack of an industrial base makes everyone well fed?

6. In a fixed pie world wherein your earning/having more wealth comes only at my expense, then you should stop trying to improve your mind for it is stealing brain cells from mine.

7. If equality of material goods is more important than raising everyone's standard of living then as long as you have any food to eat you are stealing from the starving--and should stop.

8. Rather than only worry about the poor shouldn't we all try to expand economies 'round the world -- including overturning dictatorships that prevent it -- so that people will have the incentive to invest in agriculture, manufacturing, etc?

9. Shouldn't all this scrupulosity be put to use in improving our understanding of economics -- so that we will learn to think rather than only "feel" about what really works and what doesn't -- like socialism.

10. And, last but not least, please read Hannah Arendt's book on Revolution. In it she shows how pity for the poor led to the slaughter that the French Revolution became. True compassion is not led by the emotions but is clear headed and tough minded. Feeling sorry will not help the poor. Contrary wise it may lead to a blood bath. We are not immune, you know. The free market is the only solution to poverty. It has been proven that socialism leads to poverty -- and war. We unwittingly fall into the socialist trap when we adopt their arguments and concepts dressed up in "nice" sounding terms. The Church has, after all, condemned socialism.

God bless you all,
Michael H. Smith

 

Date: Sat, 15 Jul 2000
From: Katherine Zehnder
Subject: Pity is a vice?

Michael,
My husband told me not to respond to your message until I calmed down, but I never may. There is something to address in each one of your points - some non sequitor. But the most blantant absudities right off the top were:

> 6. In a fixed pie world wherein your earning/having more wealth comes only at my expense, then you should stop trying to improve your mind for it is stealing brain cells from mine.

This is a faulty analogy. Economics is a network of interconnected activites; thinking, is not. There is not a pool of brain cells that all humans share. I'm sorry, but this is really a lame point.

> > 7. If equality of material goods is more important than raising everyone's standard of living then as long as you have any food to eat you are stealing from the starving--and should stop.

No one said this. You are trying to make everyone on the list who is citical of the current means of producing wealth into socialists. As orthodox Catholics we are not. You are trying to pit two ideas (raising the standard of living and helping the poor) against one another that are not mutual exclusive.

> > 10. And, last but not least, please read Hannah Arendt's book on Revolution. In it she shows how pity for the poor led to the slaughter that the French Revolution became. True compassion is not led by the emotions but > is clear headed and tough minded. Feeling sorry will not help the poor. Contrary wise it may lead to a blood bath.

I am sorry, but this is a ridiculous hypothesis thought up to demonize the revolutionaries and sanctify the overthrown. All you have to do is be a student of history to see that it was the abuses of the monarchy, aristocracy and even the Church that led to this hideous blood bath. People can only live under gross injustice so long before they revolt. Granted, the revolutionaries cure was worse than the disease in the end. But it shows what happens when one class has too much while another is suffering under their very noses. The same thing happended with the Bolshevik revolution. Almost all historians, even those who are not pro-communist, will tell you Nicholas was a lousy and ineffective ruler, even though he was personally a good man. Unchecked injustice leads to revolution.

Lastly, if you don't agree with Dorothy Day, please don't call her an idiot. I don't think that is in keeping with the spirit of C &T, let alone Catholicism. Next, you'll be calling St. John Chrysostom (who said prettty much the same thing as DD) one too. Also, I didn't know feeling pity and mercy were now vices. Somebody better inform the Vatican.

Please, don't try to side-track us into a discussion of socialism vs capitalism. I think I have said this before: because one is critical of modern capitalist practices does not mean one is in favor of socialism. The world isn't so black and white.

Pax,
Katherine Z

 

From: Steve Murdock
Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000
Subject: The 10 Theses

>5. Name the countries in which the lack of an industrial base makes everyone well fed?

Actually there are places like the island of Bali, which is materially poor but not wretchedly so, as is much of industrialized Indonesia; the only time there was serious shortages was when Sukarno's government made them interrupt the centuries-old planting pattern to increase their rice yields. Conversely there are such nations as Brazil, which has a gigantic and very modern industrial base and is also very wretchedly poor. I guess that's a wordy way of saying that the industrial base isn't the issue, but the way people participate in the whole system, as well as the system's ends.

Steve Murdock

 

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000
From: "Robert Waldrop"
Subject: Dorothy Day, Economics, the Poor

>1. Did Dorothy Day really say that to enjoy luxury was to steal from the poor? If so she was an idiot. If she is made a saint will I have to retract >my words and consider all her beliefs infallible?

I don't know if Dorothy has a quote like that, but St. John Chrysostom does. And canonization does not confer infallibility on the canonized, although it is an infallible statement of the Church of the sanctity of the saint. Now, if they make her a doctor of the Church. . .

>Try this: Imagine making a million dollars (legally, morally) wihout helping anyone. A rich man built a huge mansion near here in the depths of the Great Depression. It kept many families busy working -- and well fed-- for about three years.

Imagine making a million dollars and NOT hurting anyone. Regarding your rich man with a mansion in the midst of the Depression, your point is and its relevance to this discussion?

> >2. How could she justify wearing an expensive ring -- using the excuse that Christ was annointed with expensive oil. Was she Christ?

She gave the ring to a poor person.

> >3. Was she an anarchist? If so, she violated Church teachings which tell us government is natural and good.

Yes she was an anarchist, but Cardinal O'Connor had her complete corpus of writings examined by a "moralist, canonist, and theologian" and they found no errors. Perhaps her definition of anarchist was different from yours. I think she preferred local government, and government that was voluntary in its nature.

> >4. Is not voluntary poverty made possible by all the huge investment per worker made possible by the evil capitalist system--the absence of which would make everyone involuntarily poor?

It is a fallacy to say that the absence of the "evil capitalist system" would yield the involuntary impoverishment of the many. I continue to maintain that the turn to the corporation in the 19th century was a historic mistake. We could have had "prosperity and progress" without a lot of the negative consequences. Cooperatives are a way of organizing even large scale businesses. Maybe if we didn't have the Evil Capitalist Economic System, we would have the Good, True, Beautiful, and Just Economic System.

> >5. Name the countries in which the lack of an industrial base makes everyone well fed?

The Cherokee Nation, 1893. No poverty, no homeless people, hospitals and schools staffed and accessible to all, no national debt, communal and cooperative ownership of the land. This system was deliberately destroyed by the United States government. Senator Dawes, whose committee came out to the Cherokee Nation (now east-central Oklahoma) and made the report, said the Cherokees weren't selfish enough, so the government destroyed their traditional economic structures so that they would become more selfish. Today alcoholism and drug abuse and unemployment and poverty are rife in the Cherokee Nation.

> >6. In a fixed pie world wherein your earning/having more wealth comes only at my expense, then you should stop trying to improve your mind for it is stealing brain cells from mine.

It is a fallacy to assume that the alternative to "Capitalism is based on mutually beneficial trades" is the "fixed pie". In fact, modern capitalism is often based on coerced trades. They aren't mutually beneficial by any stretch of the imagination.

> >7. If equality of material goods is more important than raising everyone's standard of living then as long as you have any food to eat you are stealing from the starving--and should stop.

What is required is not equality of goods, but rather distributive justice. Everybody must have sufficient food to eat, clothes to wear, and a place to live. Society has a moral responsibility to ensure that this is so.

> >8. Rather than only worry about the poor shouldn't we all try to expand economies 'round the world -- including overturning dictatorships that prevent it -- so that people will have the incentive to invest in >agriculture, manufacturing, etc?

If a person goes out and breaks one hundred windows, the gross national product is increased, but that doesn't mean that what happened was beneficial. Frankly, I think that the "gross world product" could shrink quite a bit, and the overall effect would be beneficial. E.g., get rid of the huge worldwide expenditures for production of guns, bombs, missiles, and other such creative ways to kill people. End the abortion industry. I would say that it would be beneficial to the poor to increase efforts to fund and start microenterprises and coops, and also to end structures of sin.

> >9. Shouldn't all this scrupulosity be put to use in improving our understanding of economics -- so that we will learn to think rather than >only "feel" about what really works and what doesn't -- like socialism.

Well, I think I have a reasonable understanding of economics. I've even read Human Action by Ludwig von Mises. If you are presenting your version of economics as the only "true" economics, I (and I suspect others on this list) will strongly disagree. This does not mean that we are socialists.

> >10. And, last but not least, please read Hannah Arendt's book on Revolution. In it she shows how pity for the poor led to the slaughter that the French Revolution became. True compassion is not led by the emotions but is clear headed and tough minded. Feeling sorry will not help the poor. Contrary wise it may lead to a blood bath.

Has Hannah Arendt suddenly acquired the charism of infallibility for her opinions on the origin of the French revolution? Methinks that the cruel injustices of the era had a lot to do with it, together with the apparent cluelessness of the governmernt and the aristocracy. "It has been proven that socialism leads to poverty." Here again you insult the entire forum by falsely claiming that disagreement with your opinions constitutes preaching socialism. I am nobody's running dog, or unwitting tool. The Church calls nobody to feel sorry for the poor. Rather, we are called to solidarity with the poor. Your ubermensch definition of "true compassion" is not the one found in the Bible, but rather sounds like something from Nietsche.

Robert Waldrop

 

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000
From: "JohnLapham"
Subject: Re: Dorothy Day, Economics, the Poor

Robert,

If they make Dorothy Day a Doctor of the Church that would be, as Martha Stewart might say, "a good thing."

John Lapham

 

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000
From: "Robert Waldrop"
Subject: Re: Pity is a vice?

>People can only live under gross injustice so long before they revolt.
I think this is one of the reasons why oppression by aristocracies of power and wealth is such a wicked sin. Violence begets violence. People talk about the social pathologies of the poor, but there is an equal, perhaps greater, problem with the social pathologies of the powerful and wealthy.

Robert Waldrop