The Pope and His Politics, Continued

by Stephen P. White

Ramesh: I appreciate the compliment, but I’m afraid I may be less charitable than you suppose. Still, at the risk of sounding downright angelic, let me insist that the pope’s words are hardly “unintelligible.”

You object, I think, to the phrase “globalized economic system.” (What did Theodore Dalrymple write –  “strong on connotation but weak on denotation”?) Fair enough. I entirely agree that “more care and precision” from this pope would be a very good thing. But is it really that hard to tell what he is talking about?

Sardinia has youth unemployment of about 50 percent; surely that constitutes “harm.” And surely that harm is at least partly due to economic forces, whether they are part of a “globalized system” or not. I don’t think one needs to be an economist, still less extremely charitable, to connect those dots. If the pope wanted to make specific policy recommendations, then a more thorough (and precise) economic analysis of the crisis in Sardinia would be necessary. But of course, he isn’t making such recommendations.

You may be right that “any economic system” would “have at its center the question of how men and women make and use money.” But the fundamental question the pope is addressing is how men and women ought to make and use money. The science of economics can provide very important information to help us in answering that question, but it cannot by itself provide one. (Nor can the state, for that matter.)

Now, if consumerism and materialism are insignificant moral problems in this “globalized economic system” – does “irrational exuberance” have a moral component? – then the pope is probably wasting our time. And if our contemporary culture is well disposed to guard against the proliferation of those vices, then he’s barking up the wrong tree. But if these problems are real – and I’m confident you and I are in agreement that they are – then, insofar as they have moral and ethical roots, there is all the reason in the world for a pastor to address them, even if he has a shepherd’s understanding of macroeconomics.