Pontificating on a New Global Economic Authority

Recently, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (a branch of the Roman Curia established to promote justice, peace and human rights in the world from the perspective of the Roman Catholic Church) released a treatise on the global monetary system entitled “Note on Financial Reform”, which examines what it believes to be the root cause of global suffering and inequality, and proposed solutions to remedy that suffering. Normally a religious pronouncement of this nature would elicit little more than a few raised eyebrows, but coming from on official body of a church whose adherents account for nearly one quarter of the global population, one must give weight to the commentary regardless of concurrence in the conclusions.

Weighing in at just under 6500 words, a detailed analysis in this space is impossible, so some general summarizations are necessary. In short, the Pontifical Council seems to believe that the root of global suffering lies in an unequal distribution of resources, growth of credit markets that far outpaced real markets (agriculture, manufacturing, etc.), a world too enamored with capitalism, a lack of regulation and control on national and supranational financial transactions and markets, and the need for governing authorities to submit acquisition of material wealth and national sovereignty to the needs of the global “common good.”

With all due respect to the august body of the leadership of the Catholic Church, while they make a valid point regarding the physical suffering of many, the assessment of the root causes is, in my opinion, deeply in error, and as a result the Council’s conclusions and proposals are also in error.

In a preliminary section titled “Presupposition”, it states that “Every individual and every community shares in and is responsible for promoting the common good.” Yet what constitutes the “common good”? Who makes that determination, and how is that determination enforced? To what extent are you and I responsible for the material well-being of our neighbor? Does this extend beyond basic human needs? Is the requirement to facilitate equality of material wealth mitigated by the level of effort an individual (and by extension, a community, state or nation) to provide those needs for themselves, or a lack of effort to do so?

In a theoretical sense, the lofty goal of “equality” is laudable. After all, no person of good conscience would want to see another suffer if they can alleviate that suffering. Yet there are infinite variables that play into this equation, to the point where it is simply not possible to achieve equality without reducing freedom. Our Declaration of Independence names four rights with which all humans are born; life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the right of people to alter or abolish governments which become destructive of the ends of the first three rights. Since billions of humans will never come to a consensus on what constitutes the common good or how to achieve it, to enact that common good requires governing authorities with power to enforce their will. The more power granted to that governing authority, the less freedom left to the individual.

The Council goes on to state that “Global economic well-being, traditionally measured by national income and also by levels of capacities, grew during the second half of the twentieth century, to an extent and with a speed never experienced in the history of humankind…But the inequalities within and between various countries have also grown significantly. While some of the more industrialized and developed countries and economic zones…have seen their income grow considerably, other countries have in fact been excluded from the overall improvement of the economy and their situation has even worsened.”

So what led to such expansive economic growth over the course of the 20th century, and which nations benefited most? The United States, which began as a small, weak group of states overshadowed by the dominant world powers of England, France and Spain, established a form of government that maximized individual freedom while limiting the power of government to interfere with those human activities that did not infringe on the rights of others. As a result, the United States is today the world’s lone superpower, a nation which, while containing barely 4% of the world’s population and about 6% of the Earth’s total land mass, nevertheless manages to produce (according to the CIA Factbook) an incredible 24% of global economic output. Interestingly, according to a recent U.S. News article, the U.S. percentage of global economic output rose from an anemic 2% in the early 1800’s, to a staggering 36% just fifty years later. Yet today we see American economic superiority on the decline, and it is little wonder that during this decline we have seen an explosion in government control and regulation of the economy, as well as manipulation of paper currency in a way not possible when our currency was tied to the Gold Standard.

The Council says “the crisis has revealed behaviours like selfishness, collective greed and the hoarding of goods on a great scale.” Yet once again this is a matter of interpretation. For example, who is “greedy”? The man who works sixty hours per week to earn enough to provide material security and comfort for himself and his family and who wants to keep the fruits of that labor; or the man who works thirty hours a week, does not seek to improve his education or labor skills, and then demands a portion of the fruit of the other man’s labors simply because the other man has more material wealth (as a result of working harder and smarter)?

Discussing the types and causes of social injustice and poverty, the Pontifical Council then eases into a frightening solution; namely, the creation of a “world political Authority” (in the mold of the United Nations, an organization with a lofty mission statement yet one historically riddled with corruption and scandal), one “inspired by the values of charity and truth,” whose purpose would be to implement an equal distribution of wealth around the globe for the common good. And while it initially calls for this body to enact reforms through the acceptance of an obligation to help our fellow man, it later opens the door to the use of force when it discusses how to make these policies “binding”.

The Pontifical Council would be well served to recall that charity, by definition, is an individual pursuit, and a commandment of Jesus Christ to his followers. Charity must be voluntarily given and therefore, when the ends are achieved through political force, it ceases to be charity and instead becomes legally coerced extortion.

The Holy Bible, in Luke Chapter 18, tells of a rich man that comes unto Christ seeking the path to eternal life. The Lord tells him to keep the commandments. The man declares that “all these things have I done from my youth and up,” to which the Lord replies that he should sell all he has and give to the poor. The man leaves in sorrow because he can’t bear to part with his riches. Yet the decision to be charitable was the man’s to make, and Christ did not send the disciples to hold the man down, take his riches and give to the poor in the name of “social justice”.

I applaud the Catholic Church’s desire to save the human soul and alleviate physical suffering, but it should maintain that effort as it has done traditionally, through the voluntary efforts and contributions of its believers. Considering the levels of corruption, greed, immorality and incompetence of pretty much every single government in the world, it is a frightening thought to consider giving such unquestioned, widespread power to any government, much less a global government, no matter how inspirational its goals may sound.

The views and opinions expressed by individual authors are not necessarily those of other authors, advertisers, developers or editors at United Liberty.