The Vatican Renders Unto Caesar

By Nicholas G. Hahn III

Instability in world markets continues to bedevil financial experts, but let not your heart be troubled! The Vatican curia is on the case.

Yesterday, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace released a document entitled "Toward Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority" in response to the financial crises plaguing the world economy.

Before examining the Council's prescriptions for reform, its presuppositions about the financial and monetary systems must first be understood.

In addressing the root causes of what it sees as "great economic, social and cultural inequalities," the Council places a significant amount of blame on the unintended consequences of globalization. While global economic well-being grew to "an extent and with a speed never experienced in the history of humankind," the Council repeatedly notes that the "distribution of wealth did not become fairer but in many cases worsened."

For the Council, many of benefits reaped from the rise in technology don't excuse the reducing of human work to "mere technical variables." Echoing Blessed John Paul II, the Council again warns of an "idolatry of the market."

These onerous burdens placed on developing and developed countries are a result of misguided economic theories: an "economic liberalism that spurns rules and controls," which seems to escape "ethical evaluation," and a Hobbesian utilitarianism that holds "what is useful for the individual leads to the good of the community."

Instead, market theories ultimately ought to "have a keen sense of belonging to the human family which means sharing the common dignity of all human beings."

This notion of sharing common dignity and how it applies to civil authority recalls Blessed John XXIII's hope for a "true world political authority." As "interdependence between States and regions" continues to grow, this new world order seems more and more obvious to the Council.

Despite its lofty attempts to qualify with "progressive maturation of consciences," a "convinced consensus," and a gradual set-up process, the creation of a "supranational Authority" is an egregious rejection of the Church's long held social principle of subsidiarity, which insists that all attempts to answer political questions must first be done at the most local authority.

Yet, as any document from the Roman curia typically reads, it argues from both sides of its mouth in assuring that "governments should not serve the world Authority unconditionally," and that markets should not be "over-protected by paternalistic national policies." The Council maintains that this new authority should only intervene when lower institutions are, in perhaps an ironic reference to the Vatican itself, "intrinsically deficient in capacity."

Any sane person can recognize that the notion of another global civil authority flies in the face of subsidiarity. Simply because the Council says subsidiarity should regulate the relationships of authority, doesn't mean it actually will.

In fact, global institutions do not often respect autonomy or individual freedom of their memberships. Perhaps even Pius XI, for all his griping against the "greed" of financial systems, might consider the creation of a new "supranational Institution" a "grave evil and disturbance of right order."

And so, a question that must be asked is: does Rome want a king? The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has, in effect, suggested the creation of a near god-like emporer to rule the world's financial and monetary systems.

This king would be entrusted with "universal jurisdiction" over the world's economy. It would, because the International Monetary Fund has supposedly "lost an essential element for stabilizing world finance," facilitate the creation of a "central world bank" responsible for "global monetary management."

The king would have authority to tax transactions made by firms like Goldman Sachs. Revenues from such taxation would be deposited into a "world reserve fund," a fantasy collection basket of sorts, aimed at supporting economies most affected by financial crises.

And if that wasn't enough, the king would also be directed to bailout banks ("recapitalization with public funds") subject to wildly ambiguous "virtuous behaviors." As if the guarantee of a bailout would somehow ensure a stable market.

Ultimately, the king calls on States to look beyond Hobbes' "state of nature" which would trap people "in a never-ending struggle with one another." Evidently, this new global authority is the "only horizon compatible with the new realities of our time and the needs of humankind."

People of good will know better. There is brighter horizon. One of self-government and free markets. One that has lifted more people out of poverty than any other. One that has empowered the disenfranchised and most vulnerable. Indeed, one that has some measure of Truth, albeit imperfect.

The Council concludes its document with a reference to the Tower of Babel "where selfishness and divisions endure." Yet, the real towers of Babel these days are precisely the kind of bureaucratic authorities the Council seeks to proliferate.

Perhaps once it ceases its own incompetent babble on financial reform, the Council will see that the real selfishness and divisions -- and an idolatry of government -- exist in itself.

Nicholas G. Hahn III is the editor of RealClearReligion. Follow him on Twitter @NGHahn3.

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