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    • Rob Sheffield Pays Tribute to the “Peaceful and Stormy at the Same Time” Songs of Christine McVie December 6, 2022
      Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone magazine has written a heartfelt and insightful appreciation of the life and music of Christine McVie, who died last Wednesday, November 30.Following, with added images and links, are excerpts from Sheffield’s tribute that particularly caught my attention.Christine McVie always came on like the grown-up in the room, which admit […]
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      My friend Iggy is dedicated to facilitating mind and body transformation – within his own life and the lives of others who are similarly interested in holistic personal growth and change. To this end, Iggy’s professional/vocational life involves providing a range of services, including mindset mentoring, naprapathic massage, and personal training in boxing, […]
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      President Donald J. Trump 2 March 2019, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Oxon Hill, MD; official White House photo by Tia Dufour, at Wikimedia CommonsHeather Cox Richardson, "Letters from an American: December 3, 2002":The leader of the Republican Party has just called fo […]
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      We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.Trump has called for ... Why? So […]
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Catholic Right Rushes to Defend the Ayn Rand Federal Budget Plan

The GOP has been taking a beating of late over their budget plan to effectively end Medicare as we know it.  But Catholic Right operatives Deal Hudson and Robert Sirico quickly mobilized to provide some holy help.

For his part, Deal Hudson delegated the task to Grace-Marie Turner, president of the conservative Galen Institute, to pen a defense of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budgetary intentions at his new site, Catholic Advocate. Turner insisted that “Medicare Must Be Changed to Survive,” but nevertheless tried to downplay a key feature of the proposed change:  the use of vouchers in Ryan’s plan:

Ryan says that the outcry against his reform plan is “not just overheated – it is flat-out false.  Our budget – ‘The Path to Prosperity’ – strengthens the safety net by directing more assistance to those who need it most… Most important, it prevents the kind of debt-fueled economic crisis that would hit the poor the hardest.”

Under his plan, beginning in 2022, beneficiaries are guaranteed a choice among Medicare-approved private health options in a program like members of Congress have today and that one fourth of Medicare beneficiaries have voluntarily chosen – Medicare Advantage.

But Turner omits a critical difference between Ryan’s plan and the current Medicare format: Medicare Parts A and B, the standard government direct payment system, still now exists for those who don’t find a suitable private option.  Ryan and his defenders don’t tell us if they believe those private options will as generous if there is no government competition and less regulation.

This past April the Democracy in America column in The Economist magazine addressed the matter of vouchers.

But there is one thing about it that’s fairly clear, regardless of what’s in the details Mr Ryan will announce today:  Mr. Ryan’s plan ends the guarantee that all American seniors will have health insurance.  The Medicare system we’ve had in place for the past 45 years promises that once you reach 65, you will be covered by a government-financed health-insurance plan.  Mr. Ryan’s plan promises that once you reach 65, you will receive a voucher for an amount that he thinks ought to be enough for individuals to purchase a private health-insurance plan.  (Mr. Ryan insists that his plan doesn’t entail a “voucher”, but there is no meaningful distinction between getting a voucher with which to pay for insurance, and having the government send a payment to the insurer you choose.)  If that voucher isn’t worth enough for some particular senior to buy insurance, and that particular senior isn’t wealthy enough to top off the coverage, or is a bit forgetful and neglects to purchase insurance, there’s no guarantee that that person will be insured. It’s up to you; you carry the risk.

Mr. Ryan thinks this is a good thing, because individuals who are responsible for paying for their own health insurance will be strongly motivated to seek better insurance at a lower price.  I think this is a terrible thing, because the mechanism Mr. Ryan is using to incentivize people to seek better coverage for the price is to expose them to the risk that they will suffer from disease for which their insurance doesn’t cover them.

Soon afterward, Rev. Robert Sirico of the economically libertarian Acton Institute sought to rehabilitate Ryan’s dubious arbiter of capitalist morality, Ayn Rand.

In an essay titled Who Really Was John Galt, Anyway?, Sirico tried to take some of the controversy out of the Ryan’s praise of Rand by attempting to place her within the Catholic tradition she despised.  He claimed that Rand “saw herself operating within the Natural Law Tradition” and had a “…hunger for truth.”

But just when you think Sirico’s argument couldn’t get any thinner, he claims Ryan is a victim of a smear campaign “reminiscent of McCarthyism.”

But it is unwise and unnecessary to merely dismiss out of hand Rand’s ideas or the impact of her writings.  It is especially off-putting to see the left employ images of her to tar and feather political opponents in a dishonest way very much reminiscent of the McCarthyism they so frequently denounce.  They do not argue with Mr. Ryan-for their own ulterior motives, they merely associate him with an admittedly flawed and mean woman, and think they have done society a service.

Of course this is a strawman argument.  Ryan was not associated with Rand and no one has said he was.  Rather Ryan himself has said that he agreed with her ideas, in particular her “morality.”  That’s why Catholic writer Sean Michael Winters was spot-on when he tagged  Ryan’s plan as an “Ayn Rand Budget.”

To try to present the Ryan budget as conforming to Catholic Social teaching by misrepresenting the budget’s contents and selecting a few quotes from a single papal encyclical just doesn’t pass our test.

Perhaps what is most disturbing for us faith leaders is the cynical way in which those who have created this budget, and those who have come to town today to endorse it are trying to wrap it in the language of faith.  This is no faith-based budget.  This is the Ayn Rand budget. Let’s call it what it is.  We have been watching conservative political leaders, and pundits all touting their love for Ayn Rand over the past year.  This budget is completely faithful to her ethical vision, and what is that:

Ayn Rand says:  “I don’t approve of religion.”

Ayn Rand says:  “I have no faith at all.”

Ayn Rand says:  “I am against God.”

Ayn Rand says:   “Love only those who deserve it.”

Ayn Rand says:   “There is no reason I should be my brother’s keeper.”

Ayn Rand says:   “I promote an ethic of selfishness.”

But it is important to underscore that the Ryan budget is contrary to Catholic teaching not because Ayn Rand was an atheist. If anything, Rand’s virulent strain of neo-atheism also denigrates the character of most non-believers.  Ryan is out-of-step with Magisterium because Rand’s philosophy is unjust. For all Rand’s supposed reliance in Aristotelian ethics, she conveniently ignores his teachings on distributive justice.

Randian morality relies upon a belief that “creators” who pursue money are the only people who pursue excellence. It excludes the likes of  Jonas Salk, Mohandas Gandhi and Vince Lombardi — all of whom pursued excellence in ways that were not primarily focused upon making a buck.  Replacing the cross with the dollar sign, Rand’s definition of love is limited to the self, and forsakes any notion of common effort let alone the common good.

This is why Paul Ryan’s budget plan is at odds with Catholic principles: He too has replaced the cross with the dollar sign.

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Catholic Tea Party Economics

In my last post I discussed how the Catholic Right now seems to be decoupling from the neoconservative philosophy of empire and behind-the-scenes philosopher elites, and hooking up with paleo-conservative elements of the Tea Party movement.

While there are significant philosophical differences between these tendencies, they both believe in a form of laissez-faire capitalism steeped deeply in the neo-platonic notion of knowing one’s place in society. This shift reveals what many suspect: That the leadership of the Catholic Right – like much of the Religious Right movement – is using faith as a tool to accomplish a laissez-faire economic agenda.

While there is a distinct and identifiable trend here, the Tea Party movement defies easy characterizations. Tea Partiers often hold contradictory opinions – for example, wanting to preserve their Social Security benefits while opposing “big government programs.” Their leadership, however, know exactly what they want – laissez-faire, “casino” capitalism – and what they don’t want – Keynesian capitalism.

As I previously noted, GOP insider Deal Hudson has gone so far as to call for “a Catholic Tea Party” faction.

With that in mind, I have been reading up on John Maynard Keynes. I am currently working through his Magnum opus, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, which was published in 1936 during the Great Depression. It is often difficult reading, but it is well worth the effort. And in order to understand how Keynesian economics can be successfully applied to correct today’s economic woes I have read and reread both economist Paul Davidson‘s The Keynes Solution: The Path to Global Economic Prosperity as well as ‘s Keynes: The Return of the Master.

You may by now be asking yourself why I would dust off these tomes in search of answers to contemporary economic problems. The answer is simple: Because Keynesian economic principles explain many of the fallacies of laissez-faire capitalism while offering an alternative way to help a market economy to function in a more robust and healthy manner. In short, Keynes proposed an alternate style of capitalism, one instilled with healthy doses of realism, self-discipline and fairness. It is also a potent weapon to blunt Christian Tea Party laissez-faire economics. As we will explore in an upcoming related post, Keynes’ belief in “living a reasonable life” strongly echoes Monsignor John A. Ryan’s Distributive Justice goals..

But before we can apply Keynes’s solutions as “a refudiation” of Tea Party economic policies, we must first understand what is in need of refudiating.

Hayek’s Ghost

What most Tea Partiers advocate is a form of Austrian School flavored libertarian economics, epitomized by the life and work of the movement’s new hero,, economist F.A. Hayek (1889-1992). Hayek is often remembered for his 1944 book Road to Serfdom, a defense of laissez-faire and dire warning about where New Deal liberalism and British Labour would lead – dictatorship; an outcome already refudiated by history.

But the Austrian-born economist is also known for his theory of spontaneous order, defined by the Online Library of Liberty as “…an order which emerges as result of the voluntary activities of individuals and not one which is created by a government, is a key idea in the classical liberal and free market tradition.” As one modern Keynesian put it, “In other words, government economic policy is the problem, the free market is the solution.”

This is very much the essence of Classical and its progeny, libertarian economic thought. Its mantra is that government efforts to jump-start stagnate economies can only throw off the equilibrium or natural order of business. Unlike Keynes who believed that it was government’s role to ensure enough demand so that wages – and thus, the standard of living – do not decrease, today’s laissez-faire advocates subscribe to Say’s Law; the belief that supply creates demand.

“Let the system take care of itself and damn the human consequences.” It echoes the harsh advice Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon gave President Hoover at the outset of the Great Depression, “Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate.” The belief being that when available jobs pay less, workers will be required to take less pay. This “equilibrium” will the supposedly restore boom times. It is in this callous way markets “correct themselves.”

Calvinist Libertarianism

But boom times for whom? Keynes pointed out in chapter 19, page 262 of The General Theory:

What will be the effect of this redistribution on the propensity to consume for the community as a whole? The transfer from wage-earners to other factors is likely to diminish the propensity to consume. The effect of the transfer from entrepreneurs to rentiers [a rentier is a person who lives on income from property or investments.] is more open to doubt. But if rentiers represent on the whole the richer section of the community and those whose standard of life is least flexible, then the effect of this also will be unfavourable.

Beyond that, such laissez-faire dogma calls for a world where there are no labor contracts; one where workers must docilely accept lower wages. That is why we hear conservative economists such as Amity Schlaes make the bogus claim that FDR’s support for unionization supposedly prolonged the Great Depression.

Laissez-faire is nothing less than an economic form of Calvinism, replete with its belief in predestination. It is a theory that preaches that the past is a shadow of the future and that government has no role in addressing future economic uncertainty. And if government does attempt to address unseen contingencies, it will only aggravate things a delay a return to prosperity? Why? Because laissez-faire advocates believe that economics operates pursuant to an ergodic axiom – that the outcomes are predetermined.

The inherent absurdity of this proposition is not lost on Keynesian economist Paul Davidson:

The assumption that the economy is governed by an ergodic stochastic process means that the future path of the economy is already predetermined and can not be changed by human action today. Astronomers insist that the future path of the planets around the sun and the moon around the earth has been predetermined since the moment of the Big Bang beginning of the universe. Nothing humans can do can change the predetermined path of these heavenly bodies. This “Big Bang” astronomy theory means that the “hard science” of astronomy relies on the ergodic axiom. Consequently by using past measurements of the speed and direction of heavenly bodies, astronomical scientists can accurately predict the time (usually within seconds) of when the next solar eclipse will be observable on the earth.

Assuming that this hard science astronomy is applicable to the heavenly bodies of our universe, then it should be obvious that the United States Congress can not pass legislation that will actually prevent future solar eclipses from occurring even if the legislation is designed to obtain more sunshine to improve agriculture crop production. In a similar vein, if, as [Paul] Samuelson claims, economics is a “hard science” based on the ergodic axiom, then Congress can neither pass a law preventing the next eclipse nor pass a law to prevent the preprogrammed next systemic financial crisis. The result is a belief in a laissez-faire non government intervention policy as the only correct policy.

And why is this theory so appealing to advocates of laissez-faire? Again, Paul Davidson explains:

Thus, for example, it is often argued that the government creates unemployment in the private sector when it passes legislation that all workers are entitled to at least minimum wage that cannot be lowered even if unemployed workers are willing to work for less rather than starve. Similarly if government passes legislation that protects and encourages unionization, the effect will be to push wages up so high that profit opportunities will be ultimately eliminated and unemployment of workers assured. Thus, it follows from classical theory, that the market, and not the government should decide what wage rate should be the minimum that workers should receive. Consistency therefore would require arguing that government should never constrain the pay of top management but rather should leave it to the market to determine the value of CEOs. Is it not surprising that these CEO’s then hire these classical economists as consultants?

This is what Tea Party advocates such as Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe mean when they demand “Give us liberty!”. It is liberty for a select, fortunate few; the freedom from having profit distributed based upon merit, contribution or special skills but instead via unchecked power.

Such casino capitalism (Keynes’s term) has been at the foundation of GOP politics for the last thirty years. As the editor of the journal U.S. Catholic Bryan Cones observed of Hudson:

Can we just be honest here? Deal Hudson is a Republican. He thinks everyone should be a Republican, and he thinks if you’re a Catholic, you should be a Republican because the only issues you should ever cast a vote on are abortion and gay marriage (as if the GOP is really pure in practice on either of those issues).

Thus, it is a no-brainer for Hudson the GOP insider to serve up über-orthodox Catholic agenda with some hot Tea Party rhetoric.

In the next installment Keynes’s principles will be examined as a means to refute the Religious Right.

Related Posts:
Catholic Right: Are the Neo-Cons Out and the Tea-Partiers In?