Cowen on Vaticanomics
By David Henderson
In today’s Wall Street Journal, Tyler Cowen has a piece, “Vaticanomics,” in which he analyzes pieces of the Pope’s latest encyclical letter, “Caritas in Veritate.” He finds it less anti-market than many other commentators have. He doesn’t provide enough detail to back up that claim (which, admittedly, is hard to do, given his word constraint), but he does provide enough to motivate me to read the long document for myself. A project for this weekend.
Tyler, on his blog, highlights some of his own statements in his piece, but I liked others more. In case readers of his blog haven’t noticed–I think most of them have–Tyler has quite an ability to coin funny punchy paragraphs. My favorite two:
For all of its qualifications and talk about an ethical framework, the document endorses microfinance in two different sections. Keep in mind that many microfinance loans charge the borrower 50% or 100% interest a month and sometimes subject nonpayers to neighborhood intimidation; the church has come a long way from medieval usury laws.
It should be said that, despite moments of coherence, the encyclical is a sprawling mess that reads as if it was written by a bureaucracy that felt it had to mention everyone’s concern. What does it mean to write: “The transition inherent in the process of globalization presents great difficulties and dangers that can only be overcome if we are able to appropriate the underlying anthropological and ethical spirit that drives globalization towards the humanizing goal of solidarity”? It sounds as if somebody has read Hegel.
Tyler’s analysis does seem off in one important respect. In trying to assure us that it’s not that anti-market, Tyler writes:
This is a fundamentally conservative piece of work. When President Obama meets with the pope tomorrow, we should not expect him to stand too far to the left of the president.
So let’s get this straight. It’s fundamentally conservative and, at the same time, the Pope is not “too far to the left” of Barack Obama. That means that the Pope is at least somewhat to the left of Barack Obama. So that would make Barack Obama even more fundamentally conservative, right?