The other day, I went for a coffee with one of the local priests here in Dalkey. Father Declan was chatting about all sorts of stuff, and we touched on the first year of Pope Francis and what it has meant. For millions of Catholics all over the world – whether practising or not – the image of a truly humble man, who says the right things and seems honestly interested in the poor, is a relief.
He has had quite a remarkable effect on the brand and image of the church.
An overwhelming proportion of Catholics in the rich world (America and Europe) are impressed by him. Mass attendance, which had been falling all over the world, has stopped falling. In Latin America, the growth of evangelical Christianity has been stopped in its tracks. The evangelicals had been eating into the Catholic market share for the past decade.
Even The Economist magazine, heralding Francis as the “turnaround CEO of the year”, commends him for grabbing a huge corporate entity like the world’s biggest institutional religion and shaking it up, with immediate positive results.
Some may argue that it is all style over substance. He may now live in a boarding house instead of the traditional Papal palace, he may go out at night and talk to the poor, he may even wash the feet of the downtrodden, but what, the cynics argue, about women priests? Others will point out that he may have swapped the faintly ridiculous and outrageously camp dainty red shoes of his predecessor for normal brogues, but what about gay rights?
But this narrow assessment misses the point. He is the boss of the Catholic Church not the rotating chairperson of a civil liberties lobby group.
Change takes time and the Catholic Church, like any enormous institution, is extremely difficult to change fundamentally; it is also important to understand that in leading, you must take your constituency with you.
There is little point in Pope Francis ‘doing a Gorbachev’ by leading your followers in a direction they don’t want to go and watching the institution you were trying to reform crumble underneath you. (The unfinished business of the Soviet Union’s collapse is now playing out 25 years later in Ukraine.)
The task of the corporate turnabout is always going to be a combination of changing the inner workings of the organization while at the same time reinforcing the message to the outside world that you are moving in a particular direction. This is what appears to be happening in the Catholic Church.
This Pope is softer on gay rights (“Who am I to judge?” was his response to questions about morality and gay people), contraception and tolerance in general. He knows that certainly in Europe and America these messages are much more in tune with the average Catholic than the hardline rhetoric of predecessors. On the poor and inequality, the Pope is actually repeating what previous Popes have said but because he has washed the feet of convicts and walks around rather than being chauffeured, his intentions seem less hypocritical.
Fr Declan spoke to me about Pope Francis’ view on economics as articulated in a writing late last year in which he showed a willingness to use tough language in attacking what he views as the excesses of capitalism.
Using a phrase with special resonance for free marketers everywhere, he was strongly critical of the idea of ‘trickle down economics’, which is an economic theory (often affiliated with US conservatives) that discourages taxation and regulation.
Trickle down economics contends that even if the rich get a disproportionate amount of the wealth, wealth generation at the top will trickle down to the bottom eventually and there is nothing the State has to do other than watch this process.
Francis wrote in the November 2013 papal statement:
“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.
This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacred workings of the prevailing economic system.”
It is impossible, even for ideological right wing economists, to argue with the Pope on this one. Inequality is rising at a horrendous rate around the world; fewer and fewer people are getting more and more of the goodies.
An Oxfam report revealed last month that in the UK, the top five families own more of the national wealth than the bottom twelve and a half million people. This is inequality on a feudal level and is certainly not the recipe for any sort of social cohesion.
I’d say if the same calculations were done here we’d find similarly outrageous figures. While they might not be quite so outlandish, there can be little doubt that the top 1 per cent in Ireland own multiples of the wealth of the bottom 10 per cent.
In the past few years, this trend towards inequality has been exacerbated as wages have been undermined by competition and globalisation while the return to capital, whether it’s the stock market or companies’ profit margins, has sky-rocketed.
Now that the house prices in South Dublin – which is where the already rich live – are up 20 per cent in the past year, the wealth of the already wealthy is rising 10 times faster than wages for the average worker.
The Pope’s worries about inequality mirror those of a new book that is taking economics by storm.
The French economist Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capital is an extraordinary attack on trickle down economics.
By looking at statistical evidence, Piketty reinforces the Pope’s assertion that trickle down economics is an ”opinion that has never been verified by the facts.
Piketty shows that in America the richest one per cent appropriated 60 per cent of the increase in US national income between 1977 and 2007.
In a review of the book in the Financial Times the influential economics commentator Martin Wolf says that,
“Piketty shows that there is no general tendency towards greater economic equality and that the relatively high degree of equality seen from the 1950s to the 1980s was the result of deliberate policy, especially progressive taxation and the destruction of inherited wealth, particularly in Europe, between 1914 and 1945”.
A further lesson is that we are slowly recreating the patrimonial capitalism – the world dominated by inherited wealth – of the late 19th century.
This Easter Sunday, it is worth considering the economic message of Pope Francis. When the Argentinian Jesuit leader of the Catholic Church and the French son of radical Trotskyists are on the same page, you know we are in interesting times.
Thanks David, happy Easter.
If every single thinking person is aware of this huge equality gap….what is stopping the politicians actually doing something about it ? On paper it seems so easy ! (The simple conspirational theory of vested interests and lobbies etc. does not seem to hold water). If they want to get re-elected, just redistribute….should be easy…but seems to not work in practice. Why not ?
David, why don’t you hop in your car and drop down to Tougher’s in Newbridge for 3 o clock today, for a meeting of very ordinary people who have passed the rubicon and are about to attempt to circumvent the status quo in a non political movement, just ordinary people with no political agenda who have had enough! No pressure, just sit in…
“The prerequisite of Capitalism is to create an artificial scarcity where none exists and thus create the poor where none existed before. The poor of this world are a system’s policy decision.” Peter Joseph
look to Norway and see how wealth is managed for the masses, they have a population similar to ireland. I know they have vast richs of oil and gas resources, but they tax all including the richest citizens. Free health and education are excellent, fair distribution of wealth it seems yes. But remember Norway are not in the EU like Ireland.
Caveat i am yet to read Pikkety’s acclaimed writings, but as I observe there is actually a trickle down effect but unfortunately it is just that ” a trickle” rather than the raging torrent at the top of the waterfall the velocity actually seems to decrease as it flows downhill, the rich do spend their money but for two main reasons it simply cannot flow downhill fast enough or in large quantities, first of all the super rich are so rich they cannot possibly spend all their money and therefore its only a disproportionate amount that flows donwhill, the rest… Read more »
Have to say, all we get is more analysis of the problem, more books by economists and while they are worthy to an extent, what’s the point talking about it anymore. Actions speak louder than words. We’ve more economists, analysts and people who supposedly understand all this, yet we are financial screwed….. We all know those with money got a bailout post financial crisis 2008. This shouldn’t have happened and their wealthy should have been allowed to evaporate. They built and subscribed to a system, but when it didn’t go their way, they gamed the system. If you want real… Read more »
Bill Moyers discussed Piketty’s book with Paul Krugman. Very interesting.
Hi David, An excellent piece. There is an excellent flow to the narrative indicating an author at ease with and a deep understanding of the issues without a hint of anything conspiratorial. If you put this article together with the graph a few weeks ago detailing the different stages of boom bust cycle you have the basis of a very important treatise I’d say. If you take the point about the return to capital being increasingly one sided and apply it to the Sean Quinn gamble on Anglo it really will show how mad the whole thing is. Let’s just… Read more »
http://usawatchdog.com/true-scale-of-dollar-ponzi-scheme-becoming-apparent-rob-kirby/ David, if the money system were dealt with then you would not have a distribution problem or the corruption endemic in the current system. Rob Kirby—-“The real problem is with the money itself. We need to revert back to real capitalism which is real weights and measures and honest commerce. Otherwise, we are going to devolve into a very dark period of feudalist oppression.” and “The evidence is written all over the walls. It’s completely clear. Anyone who is not paying attention to this, at this point, is delusional.” You refuse any comment on the nature of the debt… Read more »
Edison agreeing with Henry Ford on Money. “Thomas Edison vs. the Banksters: What the Inventor had to say about Restoring Government Sovereignty th-14 “That is to say, under the old way any time we wish to add to the national wealth we are compelled to add to the national debt. Now, that is what Henry Ford wants to prevent. He thinks it is stupid, and so do I, that for the loan of $30,000,000 of their own money the people of the United States should be compelled to pay $66,000,000 — that is what it amounts to, with interest. People… Read more »
@Tony We need Interest free credit rather than Debt free money.
Usury is the kernel of the Problem.
“How to Defeat the Money Power”
1. By far the biggest house in the town where I live is the parish priests.
2. Father Sean Healy quack economics has played a huge part in bankrupting the country.
3. Maybe we should have a South County Dublin tax (10% extra income, CGT, CAT), and redistribute it around the country?
There is a difference between immoral and amoral. What these cashed up Wall St types do is very amoral, but it is not immoral, and that is the problem. Religion, for right or for wrong, kept the populace trending a certain way, lets call it the greater good. With the fall off of the influence of the church in the past 30 years and more importantly nothing to replace that moral centre in society has allowed people to run mad and screw everybody else as long as I am rich … and it is all legal. What’s even more scary… Read more »
Good Morning Peoples
How are ya all doin ?
Trust you all had a terrific Easter…..
Yeah..the economy..shockin isn’t it..ah well..what can you do ?
suppose I could kick back, listen to some Fergal Sharkey [ you little thief !] , smoke some electronic ciggies & wonder what might have been..?
take care of you..your families..period.
@eraph I don’t understand why you want to be offended by any controlled and attempted objective observation of the church (I obviously seem to have been unsuccessful in that regard). You also seem to ignore my comments completely about the “Tragedy of the Commons”. I am all for taking good morality tales from Harry Potter as long as they are relevant, I current ascribed to the First Church of James T Kirk, I want to come back from the dead 5 times and travel the galaxy and bang sexy alien chicks. Do you think that the 10 commandments are wrong?… Read more »
It has been a while since I last dropped in here (I have been over at Peter Hitchens’s blog) but the reaction of extroverts to the new Pope has been an excellent illustration of my old hobby horse (as established readers here might remember) or what I could, if I were boastful by nature, call my revolutionary theory of the dynamics of extrovert behaviour (or whatever). I remain indebted to David and to some of our former (it seems) contributors for some of the initial insights. (I collected some of my observations in a couple of longish posts over on… Read more »
this is so dangerous !! http://indian.ruvr.ru/2014_04_21/Russian-Su-24-scores-off-against-the-American-USS-Donald-Cook-5786/ “US destroyer “Donald Cook” with cruise missiles “Tomahawk” entered the neutral waters of the Black Sea on April 10. The purpose was a demonstration of force and intimidation in connection with the position of Russia in Ukraine and Crimea. The appearance of American warships in these waters is in contradiction of the Montreux Convention about the nature and duration of stay in the Black Sea by the military ships of countries not washed by this sea. In response, Russia sent an unarmed bomber Su- 24 to fly around the U.S. destroyer. However, experts say… Read more »
Eustace Mullins In the Seventeenth Century, the moneylenders and the aristocracy made a pact. If the king would make paper currency a liability of the state, the moneylenders would print as much as he liked! Thus the Banks of England, France and the Reichsbank came into being but they were all private corporations and remain so today. According to this nefarious pact, the moneylenders got to charge interest on assets they created out of thin air. The aristocracy all took shares in the central banks plus they got to finance a burgeoning government and to wage costly wars. This piece… Read more »
http://www.globalresearch.ca/whats-the-primary-cause-of-wealth-inequality-financialization/5374930 Author David Cay Johnston recently wrote an insightful review of Piketty’s book, Trickle-Up economics: Coming out of the Great Recession in 2009, inequality increased dramatically, the opposite of what happened when the Great Depression ended nearly eight decades earlier. Why? The short answer: When investment returns exceed economic growth, the rich get richer, increasing inequality. When an economy grows at 1 percent annually but investment returns are 5 percent, the already wealthy need to reinvest only a fifth of their gains for their fortunes to grow at the same rate as the overall economy. The rest can be spent… Read more »
http://american.com/archive/2014/april/the-death-of-money This pro-inflation policy is an invitation to disaster, even as baffled Fed critics scratch their heads at the apparent absence of inflation in the face of unprecedented money printing by the Federal Reserve and other major central banks. Many ponder how it is that the Fed has increased the base money supply 400 percent since 2008 with practically no inflation. But two explanations are very much at hand — and they foretell the potential for collapse. The first is that the U.S. economy is structurally damaged, so the easy money cannot be put to good use. The second is… Read more »
Gold pumpers are not the answer Tony, What happens when Gold and silver revert back to their bear market period?
Inconvenienced millionaires Why do people have difficulty to see the iniquity of Usury? Someone recently said it is because people don’t see themselves as poor, but as ‘temporarily inconvenienced millionaires’. We are all raised to work hard and expect ‘success’. And ‘success’ is making a bundle and then retiring, having other inconvenienced millionaires sweat away to service the loans we will be giving them through our mutual funds. But: working hard has little to do with it. There would be many millionaires if working hard was leading to wealth. It’s true that genius expresses itself through a combination of talent… Read more »