Monday, June 11, 2007

Discussion Point

Do you agree with the following statement: Economic life must be considered and treated as altogether free from and independent of public authority, because in the market, i.e., in the free struggle of competitors, it would have a principle of self direction which governs it much more perfectly than would the intervention of any created intellect.


bakerstreetrider said...

No, I think some things (pornography, for example, or prostitution) should be banned from the market by external authorities.

Fezzick said...

Where does this statement come from?

healthily sanguine said...

Where do you think it comes from? :)

Fezzick said...

Is this a trick question? Because, I thought I remembered this from either Rerum Novarum or Quadragesimo Anno. If either of those is correct, then I'm, per usual, loathe to publicly criticize a papal writing.

Geoff said...

Sounds like Quadragesimo Anno. Pius XI did get a few things right concerning economics. Sadly, he and Leo XIII also advocated (certainly not knowingly) Marxist ideas. People should recognize such statements for what they were. We do these holy men a disservice if we do not acknowledge the reality of what their statements were and what the ramifications of those statements are.

As for banning pornography and prostitution, morally evil though they be, I am against it. First, prohibitions (especially against pornography) would be unenforceable without house-to-house searches, a fact that in itself prevents a true law from being made to prohibit the practices.

Second, In order to prohibit behaviors that are not manifest fraudulent or forced violations of the rights of the two parties, you ultimately need a theocracy. And to enforce the decree, you need virtue police, like the hisbah. (Shariah police.)

Government is an instrument of force that exists to ensure that every individual respects the equal rights of every other individual in society. The Church is an instrument of convincing people to believe, through good example and good ideas. When you mix government (force) and religion (freely-willed belief)you end up with very ugly situations such as the Spanish Inquisition and the violent suppression of the Cathars.

I know many Catholics think there is nothing wrong with this. Many "Catholics" who believe you can force someone to believe (belief being freely-willed assent to truth) something. To force someone to believe something is a contradiction in terms. I cannot argue with anyone who espouses such an idea, because such a person has already refused to acknowledge the principle of non-contradiction.

There are other professed Catholics who believe that in order to maintain a Church-state fusion, it is necessary to kill people who believe certain things. Ibid.

Geoff said...

Unfortunately, Sylvia seems to certainly have given us a trick question. Here's the full quote:

Just as the unity of human society cannot be founded on an opposition of classes, so also the right ordering of economic life cannot be left to a free competition of forces. For from this source, as from a poisoned spring, have originated and spread all the errors of individualist economic teaching. Destroying through forgetfulness or ignorance the social and moral character of economic life, it held that economic life must be considered and treated as altogether free from and independent of public authority, because in the market, i.e., in the free struggle of competitors, it would have a principle of self direction which governs it much more perfectly than would the intervention of any created intellect. But free competition, while justified and certainly useful provided it is kept within certain limits, clearly cannot direct economic life..."

This is a statement I cannot agree with. Pius XI seems to be implying that the free market is based on a kind of selfishness, as opposed, (as A.B. put it,) to a rational self-interest. If a free-market economy is to truly be such, and function, lies, deceit, and underhandedness cannot exist on a widespread basis.

An economy is driven by human nature, which is still intrinsically good. Nobody who has any sanity will deal with someone who perpetrates fraud on his customers (or suppliers) every time he gets a chance. In this respect, the economy is self-regulating.

People like honesty. We can't go from the extreme of thinking that a free-market economy will result in injustices left and right, to the other dangerous extreme of state-directed economies, as espoused by Pius XI (and Mussolini, sadly.) There is a happy medium: have the government punish the minimal force, fraud and coercion that occurs in the free market. There will always be shysters in economic life. Those who are adversely affected by shysters will find out about them and avoid doing business with them before the government ever gets a whiff of their actions. As the Trid Catholic economist Thomas Woods says, the market has its own
way of punishing those it perceives as doing wrong.

Geoff said...

Fortuitous timing. From CNN today. Speaking of Shariah and pornography: "Iran's parliament on Wednesday voted in favor of a bill that could lead to the death penalty for persons convicted of working in the production of pornographic movies."

bakerstreetrider said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bakerstreetrider said...

Geoff, I don't think that enforcing a ban on the marketing of human beings requires a virtue police, as you posit. A law demanding chastity would demand a virtue police. A law banning acts of vice that contradict the natural law does not.

You make an interesting point that "Second, In order to prohibit behaviors that are not manifest fraudulent or forced violations of the rights of the two parties, you ultimately need a theocracy." I would be curious to see how you apply that to the evils of assisted suicide, homosexual acts, or non-abortive contraception. In all of those cases, two parties give consent to acts that are detrimental to the common good and horribly and unnaturally evil. I think pornography or prostitution, like assisted suicide or non-abortive contraception or homosexual acts, gravely violate the dignity of the human person and the common good even though both parties may give their consent. The parties do not have the right to consent to what is so gravely evil because it violates an intrinsic human dignity.

Forcing beliefs on someone does not come into this situation. I am not interested in forcing a pornographer to believe that they are committing a sin. I am instead promoting that they be forbidden from doing what they do. Their intellectual integrity remains intact.

I also fail to see what the Spanish inquisition has anything to do with anything.

Certainly, external authorites would not be entirely successful in eradicating pornography and prostitution, but they could help to put a stop to them, and punish some of the criminals. Pornography and prostition are crimes against human persons and the common good, and often involve the corruption and usery of innocents. I think that they are also against the natural law. Therefore I think that it is right for the government to enforce laws against them.

As for the market finding ways to punish what it perceives is wrong, I don't doubt it, but its power is terribly limited to what is "perceived" by the majority as vice and virtue. Right now abortion and pornography are two of the most profitable markets with the greatest demand. I don't think we can always count of the wisdom of the market.

Fezzick said...

What is neccesarily wrong with some government intervention in the economy? As Bill Powell would say, you don't have to be a communist to have a problem with capitalism.

I think it is an oversimplification to say that people will refuse to trade with shysters, and thus the free market will weed out its own offenders. I think that one of the most fundamental traits of fallen human beings is their predilection for doing what profits them, and this predilection is exacerbated by uninhibited free market. We are basically good, but we are fallen.

Most businessmen, sad to say, will trade with a dishonest man if they can get the goods cheaper than they can from an honest one. American trade relations with China is probably the best living example of this.

Geoff said...

I don't think most businessmen would deal with crooks. Because A) If he's a crook with others, he's eventually going to stab you in the back. B) Getting caught means the end. Enron-style. The isolated instances could not be prevented by laws. Because we already have laws against them. What laws would you propose to "curtail" certain practices, and what certain practices? Chances are, the laws already exist, and they prevent true force, fraud and coercion.

I know I don't deal with shady people. And I guarantee it's not because of any civil law.

As for China, their standard of living is steadily growing because of the trade it does with the world (especially the U.S.) Cars are showing up on the streets everywhere. While in North Korea (who we do not trade with)you won't find any green growing things, and you won't hear songbirds. They've all been eaten. The only cars you'll see are owned by government officials. The streets are huge, and only used by very thin pedestrians. Is that the alternative you want to see? Trading with China is the best thing that we can do for their poor people.

Fezzick said...

The Chinese use wage slaves, inhumane factory conditions, and long hours to get the results that they get.

I've been on the Pearl River in the Guangdong Province. I've seen the factories and smelled the stench of Chinese "industry."

My point is, I think that the reason that America is trading with China is because we can get the same services cheaper there, since we don't have to worry about wage or working condition laws.

Maybe I should start a post, this will probably lead to a related but different discussion than the current topic allows.

Geoff said...

The Chinese are now where we were 120 years ago. The farms are being deserted because it's not profitable to farm any more. They're experiencing the same stenches, the same conditions that we did. It will pass, just like it did for the U.S. In all of the suffering, the standard of living was increasing 7% per year.

The difference is that their socialist government, not merely a dramatic influx of labor, is in great part causing their problems. An embargo will not change that, except for the worse. We have historic proof of this. They're working with what they have. If you impose sanctions, or impose an embargo on them, they will be worse off, just like North Korea, Cuba and Iraq. Kim il Jong, Castro and Saddam weren't hurting for money. Their people were.

But the more money the people see (and they are seeing more) the freer they will become. There is no way to improve the situation except by continuing trade with the Chinese. If you embargo, you'll get a North Korea. If the rulers don't care about the people, are they going to change because of an embargo? The rulers sure aren't going to suffer over it. If you go to war with China, far more suffering will result.

Geoff said...

An illustrative article, putting things in perspective.