Total Pageviews

Friday, September 18, 2015

Pope Francis: Unfettered Capitalism is "A New Tyranny"

(Editor’s note:  Pope Francis makes his first papal visit to the US in a swing through the Northeast --- Washington, DC, New York City & Philadelphia --- September 22-27, 2015.  Upon his arrival, he will be greeted at the airport by President Obama, in a change of protocol which typically rolls out the red carpet only at the White House.) … 

In March 2013 Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the new Pope of Christianity’s Roman Catholic Church, at the age of 76. Francis is a pope of many firsts. He is the first pope from the order of the Society of Jesus (better known as the Jesuits), the first from the Americas, the first from the Southern Hemisphere and the first non-European pope in almost 1,300 years.

On the night of his election, Francis reportedly took the bus back to his hotel with the cardinals, rather than be driven in the papal car, in a style that news coverage has referred to as "no frills." He told journalists that he had chosen the name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, out of special concern for the well-being of the poor. He had previously expressed his admiration for St. Francis, explaining that "He brought to Christianity an idea of poverty against the luxury, pride, vanity of the civil and ecclesiastical powers of the time. He changed history."

Francis quickly served notice that he was to be a new kind of pope. He chose not to live in the official papal residence in the Apostolic Palace, but to remain in the Vatican guest house, in a suite in which he can receive visitors and hold meetings. He is the first pope since Pope Pius X (1903-1914) to live outside the papal apartments.

At the outset of his papacy, in a hopeful and encouraging sign for ordinary citizens, Francis set out a platform for his papacy in an 84-page document known as an apostolic exhortation. In it he attacked unfettered capitalism as “a new tyranny,” calling for an overhaul of the financial system and warning that economic inequality and unequal distribution of wealth inevitably leads to violence. Absent a solution to that problem, Francis said, “no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.” Francis attacked the “idolatry of money,” urging politicians to “attack the structural causes of inequality” and strive to provide work, healthcare and education to all citizens.

Francis also called upon the affluent to share their wealth:

Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality.  Such an economy kills.

“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure,” the pope asked, “but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?”

“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets,” the pope wrote, “rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

In June 2015, the pope followed up his papacy directive with a 184-page encyclical, termed Laudato Si, calling for sweeping action around the globe to combat environmental degradation and climate change that he said was due mostly to fossil fuels and human activity.

Anita McBride, executive in residence at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University's School of Public Affairs, says the excitement surrounding this papal visit to Washington is a "sharp contrast" to the last one, in April 2008, when Pope Benedict XVI huddled with President George W. Bush. McBride should know. Previously, she served as chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush. White House aides at the time feared the pontiff might make sharp public comments about America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, although he did not.

It appears that the times finally may be changing, Pope Francis sounding --- and acting --- very much like progressive leaders in the US who are aligned with President Obama. This bodes well --- not only for the poor --- but also for the spirits of millions of ordinary American citizens and people in developing nations throughout the world.

-Michael D’Angelo

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Purchase System

A force of immense power and remarkable quality.  Experience of victory without equal demonstrated in the world time and again.  Seasoned veterans of economic and great world conflict.  An elite group full of pride and confidence and arrogance, and it has much to be arrogant about.

As a social institution, it is a study in paradox.  Unique coats of arms honor family accolades which recall an era of bygone royalty.  A creature entirely of lawmakers, its traditions are cherished.  The common people take pride in its achievements, but at the same time its power is deeply feared and kept in check. 

More paradox.  Its individuals are highly and professionally skilled.  They go about their business as both a science and career.  But they cultivate high society with a casual air.  And in most cases they acquire their status by purchase at a high cost, the higher the title the greater the cost.

Over the generations, this “purchase system” is condemned as “organized incompetence and institutionalized corruption.”  But its purpose ensures that those of status have a “stake in their society and are not dangerous to its institutions.”  The purchase system keeps the social institution “firmly in the hands of an aristocratic governing elite, who control most of the wealth and power of the nation.”

Structurally, a final paradox lies in the fact that this social institution is “both bureaucratized and decentralized.”  For that reason, there can never be a coup in the land of America’s mother country.  The British military proves itself time and again in the twenty plus years preceding the 1776 American Revolutionary War, fighting on five continents and defeating every power that stands against it.  All in all, it’s an impressive, efficient set-up.

And as with many of its other time-tested institutions, America adopts the economic component, if not the military structure, of the British purchase system.  America’s wealthy class seems to be firmly in the hands of an aristocratic governing elite, controlling most of the nation’s wealth.  And with wealth in the purchase system comes power (see cartoon).

The good news?  Thankfully, the wealthy class has, thanks to the purchase system, a critical stake in its society and consequently is not seen to be dangerous to its other institutions.  A revolution from above seems unlikely.

But there is bad news, too.  The startling graphic is that the 400 richest Americans possess more wealth than the bottom half (150 million) combined.  At the same time, wealth disparity which is already at record historical levels continues to widen.  Equality of opportunity for the masses of the unknown upon whom the strength of the nation derives --- essential to keeping the American Dream alive --- continues its decline in lock step with the shrinking middle class.

Newcomers, especially, are perhaps hit the hardest, their opportunity to achieve a realistic level of prosperity by any reasonable measure effectively foreclosed.  The 2016 US presidential election is still more than one year away.  But the issue of wealth disparity frames the coming debate, as the third great crisis in our nation’s history comes into full view.

A campaign ad for one of the political candidates strikes a chord of provocation in direct terms:

Which side are you on?  Are you on the side of ordinary people struggling to put food on the table, send their kids to college, live with some dignity --- or are you on the side of millionaires and billionaires whose greed has no end?

Sometimes --- in real life --- we are left with little alternative but to make choices and take sides.

-Michael D’Angelo