Fighting Poverty to Build Peace?
13 January AD 2009
As is customary, the Holy Father issued a pastoral message on New Year's Day, observed since January 1, 1968 during the reign of Pope Paul VI as the World Day of Peace; and an address to the diplomatic corps on January 8th of this year (AD 2009). For the most part, the emphasis in both documents was secular, but nonetheless Pope Benedict XVI had some things to say that are well worth repeating. Numbers in brackets [#] refer to the paragraph numbers in the Pope's message on New Year's Day.
In “Fighting Poverty ...” the Pope reminds us that human beings are assets rather than liabilities. The crime of abortion—in addition, of course, to being a crime against God that cries out for vengeance—is both an attack on “the poorest of human beings” and an attack on the development of nations:
A refreshing change from Pope John Paul's emphasis on NFP—“responsible parenthood . . . the principal activity and primary commitment of these programs is to foster human love” (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, pp. 208-209).
We used to have men and women dedicated to raising the level of the poor, the ignorant, and the heathen; ready even to journey to the ends of the earth at the word of a superior. Many left to work in prisons and police departments when they learned in the 1960s that such work was not “socially relevant,” that it constituted “cultural imperialism,” or wasn't “ecumenical.” Could it be that Pope Benedict is calling for a revival of the religious orders:
Another refreshing change is found in Pope Benedict's realistic understanding of the dangers of foreign aid, and of governments where bribery, redistribution of income, and other illegal activities are part of the culture:
The realization that “you can't redistribute what doesn't exist” is a good way to begin economic wisdom.
A “common code of ethics” is also needed—here Pope Benedict quotes John Paul II, but puts a refreshingly Thomistic spin on where that “common code of ethics” will be found: “A ‘common code of ethics’ is also needed consisting of norms based not upon mere consensus, but rooted in the natural law inscribed by the Creator on the conscience of every human being (cf. Rom 2:14-15).” Yet, the concept of a natural law imposed by God is alien to the “Progressive” mind, and will very likely be dismissed as a quaint figure of speech by most of those who move in the circles to which both messages seem to be directed. The U.N., the “global solidarity” people, the “common good” people, the “global warming” people, and others like them generally do not even admit that there is a “Creator,” let alone a “natural law” inscribed by Him. The very people in whom Pope Benedict places his trust are Utilitarians who govern precisely by a consensus of what will bring the “greatest good for the greatest number”—or, rather a consensus of what the elite feel is best for themselves and the masses. This consensus generally calls for increased governmental bureaucracy and a greater public cartelization of business and finance. This is the stuff of which economic depressions are made and exacerbated until they end in war. Roosevelt and Mussolini would understand and approve—we certainly don't want to implement this with a global government and world wide cartels.
While no Catholic can be a fan of poverty, the reality is that most of the wars we have experienced in the past couple of centuries have not been fought over poverty. Most modern wars have been fought because of the ambitions of wealthy and powerful nations—desire for naval superiority, for colonies, to annex ethnically similar peoples in neighboring nations, to protect the investments of influential citizens, to force trade upon the unwilling, and sometimes even outright conquest. While the poverty due to hyperinflation in Weimar Germany may have been a cause of World War II, it was not the poverty of underdevelopment, but poverty produced as revenge. Nor can one view the Communist revolutions in Europe and Asia as uprisings of the poor, for they were all well financed from outside of the countries in which they took place—and they reduced the “proletariat” to poverty if not to the starvation and death met by those who refused atheism or collectivization. Affluence, rather than poverty, ought to be looked at as a catalyst of war. Not the affluence of individuals, for individuals do not make war—but the affluent combination of government, business, and finance, able to use its combined might to grow in size and to profit more in war than in peace.
Perhaps the Pope has in mind the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and a number of the agencies of the United Nations Organization—all devoutly religious and moral people!
Pope Paul VI tried to make the same case in Populorum Progressio (#57). In economic terms both Popes are saying that the newly emerging countries face “deteriorating terms of trade.” But neither provides any statistics or cites any studies. The matter is extremely complex and very much subject to ideological bias. Milorad M. Drachkovitch and Sidney Hook dealt with the problem in Marxist Ideology in the Contemporary World- Its Appeals and Paradoxes, where they cited a very detailed study, Price and Quantity Trends in the Foreign Trade of the United States by Robert E. Lipsey. No study seems to exist on the terms of trade between every country with every other country—the Lipsey study is for the U.S. with all others. Its major conclusion is that terms of trade move back and forth:
The terms of trade argument is further complicated by trade volumes, inflation, interest rates, foreign exchange rates, and the possibility of excluding or including commodities like oil, gold, uranium, or diamonds to make an ideological point. Anecdotal evidence over the past few years suggests that the commodity exporting countries are not doing badly. A great deal of the production formerly done in developed countries has moved “off shore”— to China, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and so forth. There has been a great cry—a “food crisis”—that would certainly favor commodity producers over industrial producers. A pound of bananas or coconuts is real wealth to the hungry, not so a plasma TV or a VCR. Likewise the demand for ethanol, so fresh in our minds, stands to be met by commodity producers. And if the industrialized countries and their central banks continue to debase their currencies at the current rate, holding one's wealth in coconuts and and bananas (not to mention gold or diamonds) may soon become far more popular than holding it in dollars or euros.
Many modern day Catholics in the developed countries have difficulty comprehending just how spiritually grinding real poverty can be—they tend to confuse abject poverty with the poverty one lives in a monastery or religious community governed by the evangelical counsels, or perhaps with the austere life of a Spartan-like culture. But abject poverty is like nothing else. “It is not uncommon,” wrote the economist Adam Smith of the pre-industrial, “Highlands of Scotland for a mother who has borne twenty children not to have two alive.” The poverty in which parents must watch their children die for lack of minimal nutrition or simple medicines crushes the spirit every bit as much as it crushes the body—it is not the poverty “for the sake of the Kingdom,” but rather the poverty that saps man's Faith.
Pope Benedict's heart is obviously in the right place, but greater government intervention will not contribute to the production needed to feed and clothe the world's poor. Capital formation and production take place where one can start a business without filling our yards of forms, without having to bribe the officials, without being subject to intrusive or anti-competitive regulation, where there is no history of recent revolution or nationalization, where the currency value is stable, and where one doesn't have to pay high taxes merely for the privilege of existence. But, such a production friendly environment is not where the new globalization is at.
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