Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Pope Worships Gaia!

... at least, such a headline would not be a stretch to approximating the sensationalism in the press over the Pope's recently released message for the 43rd World Day of Peace.

First of all, it's worth pointing out that this isn't anything new.

Secondly,, at least, has a good editorial on the matter. They allude to the noteworthy fact that the Pope's document remained largely unnoticed by the media until somebody had a slow news day and decided there was something to be sensationalized here.

Third, the document itself isn't anything earth-shattering. Or, rather, it isn't remarkably innovative. It's earth-shattering in the sense that the Gospel and its ministers are like fire upon the earth and always seem supersubstantial in contrast to the mundane truisms we encounter each day. But it isn't like the Pope is sounding a clarion call of liberalism or saying that, after all, maybe trees is people too.

No, this is the same sort of thing we've heard before, although I have to say I love more and more Benedict's style. His message for last year on this occasion, as well as this one, have a neat style of recapitulation where the "theme" becomes something like an affirmative command at the end.

There's really not much in the document to parse. You really ought to read it yourself - it isn't long. And hopefully, if anyone tells you that this should be best understood under some divisive hermeneutic between the real Benedict and his Marxist "handlers," you can tell 'em where to go. (No, no, I didn't mean there. Here.)

It is noteworthy that the Pope does not in the document explicitly mention anthropogenic global warming, per se. He speaks of an "ecological crisis," which can mean anything from the depletion of drinking water sources to overfishing to deforestation. He also condemns any policies or philosophies that "end up abolishing the distinctiveness and superior role of human beings."

From a Distributivist point of view, there are certain passages in the statement which warm the heart. My favorite is from paragraph five:
Prudence would thus dictate a profound, long-term review of our model of development, one which would take into consideration the meaning of the economy and its goals with an eye to correcting its malfunctions and misapplications. The ecological health of the planet calls for this, but it is also demanded by the cultural and moral crisis of humanity whose symptoms have for some time been evident in every part of the world. Humanity needs a profound cultural renewal; it needs to rediscover those values which can serve as the solid basis for building a brighter future for all. Our present crises – be they economic, food-related, environmental or social – are ultimately also moral crises, and all of them are interrelated. They require us to rethink the path which we are travelling together. Specifically, they call for a lifestyle marked by sobriety and solidarity, with new rules and forms of engagement, one which focuses confidently and courageously on strategies that actually work, while decisively rejecting those that have failed. Only in this way can the current crisis become an opportunity for discernment and new strategic planning [emphasis in original].
His holiness goes on to saliently observe that "the issue of environmental degradation challenges us to examine our life-style and the prevailing models of consumption and production, which are often unsustainable from a social, environmental and even economic point of view" [my emphasis]. This is a particularly important point for Distributists, who alone seem to be very cognizant of the economic imperative arising from legitimate sustainability concerns. Infinite wealth creation, or reliance upon price mechanisms rather than on changing and shaping values toward better stewardship, are ill-conceived plans by theoreticians who would view sustainability as a threat (see, for example, Tyler A. Watts, "Sustainaibility: An Assault on Economics" on Mises Daily).

I was also very pleased by the Holy Father's handling of the need for "intergenerational solidary," which he called for in his encyclical. This is a sort of late-comer onto the scene of Catholic Social Teaching, and has very profound economic implications, especially with a fiat currency, money-as-debt system fueling Western nations' economies. We're running future generations not only into an unsustainable position with regard to natural resources, but in terms of financial sustainability as well. This all ties in very well with some research I'm doing currently into the idea of a "demographic winter" - that the homes and resources being used up and required by the current aging population will leave us, 30 years down the road, in quite a predicament. We think there's a bad housing market now? Well, what will happen if people continue to conceive and bear children at such a severe deficit compared to their grand-parents' generation? What will happen when only a quarter of the number of people currently retired in Florida, for example, are set to retire in a future generation when all those folks have died? Only every fourth house may be occupied. Think that won't cause problems to banks on the mortgage front? And that's just one of many scenarios in which we face disaster in light of current demographic trends. Intergenerational solidarity is going to become increasingly important: but all this is a for a future post. I'll be reviewing the documentaries Demographic Winter and The Demographic Bomb in the days to come. So stay tuned.

In the meantime, if you haven't yet, go and check out the Pope's message and keep an eye out for these important economically relevant points. Of course, really, the whole thing is economically relevant - a fact which is, itself, a major point which the Holy Father is making: "economic activity needs to consider the fact that "every economic decision has a moral consequence'."

I'm sure there are plenty more points worthy of discussion that I haven't hit. Please come back to the combox and share them. I'll take this opportunity to reiterate that I want this to be a place of discussion. So, please, lend a hand!

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