Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

From the September AD 2009
Our Lady of the Rosary
Parish Bulletin

Abstinence Food

The Great Depression


Abstinence Food

    Question:  From what, exactly, are Catholics expected to abstain on Fridays and other days of abstinence?  Does the use of chicken broth violate the rules of abstinence?  Are there causes that might excuse from abstinence?

    Answer:  Here is how the eminent moral theologian Henry Davis, S.J. explains it in his Moral and Pastoral Theology, (London: Sheed & Ward, 1935) Vol. II, 405-6:

The law of abstinence forbids the eating of flesh meat and meat soup, but not of eggs, milk foods, and condiments from animal fats (c.1250).  By condiment is meant that which is taken—whether liquid or solid—in a small quantity with food to make it more palatable.  Butter made from animal fats, and margarine from palm kernel are allowed.  Jellies also which are made from fish or animal bones are not meat.  Lard, the rendered fat of hog, and dripping, the grease that has dripped from roasted meat, may be taken as condiments.  But suet, the fatty tissue about the kidneys and omentum of ox and sheep, being an integral part of the animal, is flesh meat, and is forbidden.  Suet pudding, made of flour and shredded suet, is forbidden if the suet is more than a condiment, that is, more than a small fraction of the whole.

What precisely is an animal, within the meaning of the law, cannot be completely determined.  We need not take scientific definitions, but may have recourse to the common usage of the term.  In case of doubt, the rule laid down by Saint Thomas may well be taken, namely, that by the term are meant animals that are born on land and breathe (Summa II-II, q.147 a.8).  Saint Thomas meant, we believe, animals that are born, live, and mature on land.  In the case of amphibians, their similarity to land animals must decide.  In case of doubt the law does not bind.

Under fish are included frogs, snails, oysters, lobsters, otters, beavers, crabs.

    To decide the issue of cooking with chicken broth we inquired as to how it is prepared, and found that:

Chicken broth is easy to make at home and can be used in place of water in many dishes. It’s a favorite ingredient in many wok recipes.  Chicken broth is technically a reduction of liquid from the various meaty parts of a chicken that are simmered in water. Vegetables are often added to increase flavor. The breasts and/or legs and thighs are removed after approximately three hours of cooking and used in other dishes.  Broth tends to be more liquid and lower in fat, especially when allowed to cool and the top layer is skimmed. At this stage, a thin broth can be strained, seasoned, and consumed as soup. (The Big Oven Food Dictionary, s.v. “Chicken Broth.”)

    If anything, this description of chicken broth sounds less like meat than the “lard” or “dripping” permitted as a condiment in Father Davis’ instruction quoted above—particularly when the broth is skimmed and strained as indicated in the recipe.  Of course Davis’ stipulation that the material is to be used only as a condiment would apply to the chicken broth as well, so that it would not be appropriate to take it as a soup on its own.  Using it to flavor rice or an egg-drop soup would seem to be within the spirit of the law.

    Those are excused who are under seven years of age or who have never come to the use of reason; those who cannot get abstinence fare, or who cannot keep the law without considerable difficulty, whether of health, occasion,  time, or expense, for example the sick, the convalescent, and the very poor, those who require meat for health’s sake …those who undertake considerable manual labor … who journey and cannot obtain abstinence fare without considerable difficulty … vagrants who live by what they can beg … soldiers and sailors who are fed, during service, by the State.

If an invited Catholic guest finds meat fare and nothing else … if by accident meat had been prepared … particularly with poor families (Davis).

    Scandal ought to be avoided, but the restaurant meal that would be paid for and probably thrown away would generally qualify as excused.


The Great Depression

[Continued from last month]

Question:  Were there moral aspects to the Great Depression?  A lot of people suffered for well over a decade.  Shouldn’t someone be held responsible?  Can we prevent such a thing from happening again?

 ● Gold as Money ●

    Over the centuries, when societies evolved from barter to money economies, a common choice has been to use a weight of gold or some other precious metal as the money.  Gold is rare enough to be not found laying around, abundant enough to be available for trade, not subject to tarnish, and in demand for artistic and practical purposes.  Having a more or less universal appeal, gold makes a good medium of exchange, unit of account, and store of value—the three essential characteristics of money.[1]

    Coining money in standard weights and recognizable shapes makes it more useful in trade than carrying it around in bars.  Although free enterprise mints have existed, governments tend to usurp this function for their own as an extension of their power over those governed, and to be able to finance wars and other spending not made possible by direct taxation.  The free enterprise mint must produce full valued coins (and sometimes a bit more) to preserve the recognition of its coins by the market—the government merely uses its coercive powers (legal tender laws) to demand recognition of its coins.  Unscrupulous governments have been known to debase their coins by minting them with less precious metal content than the monetary standard, producing extra coins for themselves with the “surplus.”

    The United States Constitution was ratified by the States on June 21, 1788, with Article I delegating certain monetary powers to the Congress:

Section 8. …. To borrow money on the credit of the United States … To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures …To provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States….

    The federal government thus assumed the responsibility of setting the standards for units of measure like the foot, the gallon, the pound, and the dollar—clearly things that need to remain constant once set, apart, perhaps, from specifying them more precisely in the future.  Among the first laws passed by the new Congress was the Mint Act of 1789, which set the nation’s monetary standards and commissioned a mint to strike the coins.  The Mint Act did not outlaw the private production of metallic coins, and free enterprise coinage continued until outlawed by the Lincoln regime in 1864.[2]  Gold was valued at roughly $20 dollars per ounce, and silver at one-fifteenth that of gold, or about $1.34 per ounce.  Under the Mint Act the penalty for debasing the money of the United States—a species of treason mixed with theft—is death![3]

    In the Constitution, the sovereign States also agreed to some monetary restrictions on themselves:

Section 10. No state shall … coin money; emit bills of credit; make anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts … pass any … law impairing the obligation of contracts….

    Section 10 is significant for, as we will see, the “Gold Robbery of 1933” would make gold coin unavailable for paying debts (silver coin would become unavailable in 1970[4]), and impair the obligation of contracts specifying payment in gold.

    Prior to 1933 the federal government issued paper money that was backed by gold or silver.  The bearer was entitled to exchange his certificate at the Treasury for the specified amount of metallic coin.

    At the same time, there also circulated Federal Reserve Notes that were backed by U.S. Securities.  Forty percent of the currency in circulation was supposed to be backed by gold.  This, of course, does not include the deposits created by fractional reserve banking—easily a ten-fold expansion of the “money” supply, connoting a four percent backing in gold.

● “The Great Gold Robbery of 1933”[5] ●

    The Roosevelt administration was desperate to raise prices by inflating the money supply.  Prices had declined due to technological development and consequent increased productivity—more things were available, in greater variety, at lower prices—but Roosevelt mistakenly viewed this prosperity as a cause of the economic depression, as though lower prices led to unemployment.

    On the day after his inauguration, 5 March 1933, Roosevelt summoned Congress into session, and on the 6th invoked the wartime “Trading With the Enemy Act” to keep the banks closed until at least the 13th.  While this was clearly illegal, Congress passed the “Emergency Banking Relief Act of 1933” in the evening of March 9th.[6]  This amended the “Trading With the Enemy Act” to include emergencies “During time of war or during any other period of national emergency declared by the President” to criminalize the “export, hoarding, melting, or earmarking of gold or silver coin or bullion or currency, by any person within the United States.”  Americans became the “enemy” and could “be fined not more than $10,000, or, if a natural person, may be imprisoned for not more than ten years, or both.”  If they were commanded to surrender “any or all gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates” but failed to do so, thy would “be subject to a penalty equal to twice the value of the gold or gold certificates in respect of which such failure occurred.”  In other words when the “enemy”—the American citizen—failed to turn in all his money, he was supposed to turn in all his money twice over.

    Title II of the “Banking Relief Act” enabled the government to seize and reorganize banks as it saw fit.

    Title IV allowed the Fed to issue money (“receivable at par in all parts of the United States for the same purposes as are national bank notes, and shall be redeemable in lawful money of the United States on presentation at the United States Treasury”) based not on gold or silver, but on securities (“Upon the deposit with the Treasurer of the United States, (a) of any direct obligations of the United States or (b) of any notes, drafts, bills of exchange, or bankers' acceptances acquired under the provisions of this Act.”)

    Between his inauguration in March of 1933 and January 31st of the following year, Roosevelt went off the gold standard, tried to confiscate all privately owned gold bars and coins, nullified all contract clauses requiring payment in gold, and debased the dollar roughly forty percent by raising the theoretical price of gold from $20 to $35 per ounce.

● Cui bono?  Who would profit? ●

    Why would Roosevelt pursue the highly inflationary policy of getting off the gold standard?

    The farm lobby, first of all, wanted to see inflation for two reasons—to raise the dollar price of their products, and to pay off the ubiquitous farm loans with cheaper dollars than they had borrowed.  American farmers continued to produce  at World War I levels, but without the large European demand for their product, thereby lowering farm prices.  Roosevelt feared the farm lobby. Instead of encouraging them to enter new fields of endeavor or to diversify into more profitable crops, the government determined to inflate the currency (as well as paying subsidies to not grow, and destroying crops and livestock).  In 1937 they even criminalized the growing of the very versatile hemp plant on the grounds that smoking it might cause addiction (translation: it was a threat to the well connected synthetic fiber producers). Inflation and subsidies might benefit the farm lobby.

    Many but not all of the bankers lobbied against the gold standard as it represented a measuring rod against which the woefully under-backed money supply could be gauged.  Roosevelt alluded to this in his May 7th “Fireside Chat”

    If the holders of these promises to pay started in to demand gold the first comers would get gold for a few days and they would amount to about one twenty-fifth of the holders of the securities and the currency. The other twenty-four people out of twenty-five, who did not happen to be at the top of the line, would be told politely that there was no more gold left. We have decided to treat all twenty-five in the same way in the interest of justice and the exercise of the constitutional powers of this government.[7]

    One out of twenty-five is precisely the four percent I predicted earlier—not the forty percent mandated by law and not the hundred percent demanded by justice.  Roosevelt did not act in “the interest of justice,” and far exceeded his “constitutional powers,” which in no way include grand theft or the nullification of contracts.

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated….[8]

    Some businessmen lobbied for devaluation of the dollar as a means of increasing exports.  A few foreign currency speculators chimed in, as well as those who had already gotten gold out of the country.

    By far, the greatest proponent of going off gold was the federal government itself.  When people turned in their gold in early 1933 they received $20 an ounce—when the price rose to $35, the government turned an instant forty percent profit.

    FDR ranked among history’s biggest hoarders with an estimated 190 million ounces of gold worth $7 billion after the dollar devaluation.  FDR undoubtedly hoarded gold for the same reason that the mercantilist kings of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries  hoarded it:  Gold was the ultimate money, and for a ruler money meant power.[9]

    Perhaps more importantly, abandonment of the gold standard meant that the government could inflate the currency at will, robbing from everyone who held dollars, and saddling the taxpayers and their descendants with interest payments forever.

● To What Effect? ●

    As Christians we know that a good end never justifies achieving that end through evil means.  Nonetheless, it will be instructive to ask whether or not the “Great Gold Robbery” achieved its ends.

    After confiscating American’s gold, the government did not inflate the currency very rapidly.  Price levels did not rise to 1929 levels until 1942 or 1943;  M2 took until 1938 or 1939.  Unemployment remained in double digits until 1941 when the government prepared for the attack on Pearl Harbor and entry into World War II.  The war itself brought unemployment down to a percent or so, but at a terrible price—apart from the war years, 1929 employment levels were not reached again until the 1950s.  By 1937, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was back to 1929 levels, but government spending became an ever increasing component.  (GDP can be a misleading figure as it counts government consumption as though it were production.)

    Farm prices did not rise as the farmers had hoped.  Bizarre farm programs would come into being, often counter productive, leaving people without food to eat, and farmers with continued low prices.

    The bankers seem in general to have enjoyed the loss of discipline involved in the gold standard.  Of course those who had taken gold out of the country before 1933 profited.  The eventual war would be profitable, as usual, for those in the appropriate industries.

    The real beneficiary of the Gold Robbery was the federal government.  Not only had it acquired a huge stock of gold, but it had gained the means to keep that stock within the country without regard to the condition of the US economy.  Other “New Deal” programs would be challenged in court—some successfully—but the Gold Robbery clearly emboldened the robbers to find other immoral and illegal ways to tinker with the economy.

    The greatest losers were those with an interest in the American economy.  Prosperity depends on private sector investment, which in turn requires confidence that the rules will remain constant.  Going off gold and nullifying gold contracts sent the terrible message that the rules might change at any time, for the US was no longer a nation under the rule of law.

[To be continued]




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