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Comments about ‘Michael Gerson: The gospel according to JC Penney’

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Published: Tuesday, Dec. 10 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

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Roland Kayser
Cottonwood Heights, UT

" No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon."--Matthew 6:24

Christians seem to forget this.

Unreconstructed Reb
Chantilly, VA

I've been active LDS all my life. For the first time ever, I've become envious of my Catholic friends. I have respect for his predecessors in my lifetime, but Francis is an incredible breath of fresh air in reminding us where Christian discipleship should focus, and emphasizing that our faith requires us not to turn a blind eye to the failings of capitalism, nor to become indifferent to casualties of the economic Darwinism so many espouse.

SEY
Sandy, UT

Capitalism again gets thrown under the bus. Why? Because its critics have no clue what true capitalism looks like. The U.S., for instance, is NOT capitalistic. It is a mixed economy which can more accurately be described as crony-capitalism. It has more in common with fascism than capitalism. The closer an economy comes to pure capitalism, the more humane it becomes.

Lagomorph
Salt Lake City, UT

SEY: "The closer an economy comes to pure capitalism, the more humane it becomes."

Agreed, pure capitalism works, in theory, to perfectly distribute resources. Pure communism does as well. But neither economic system exists in its pure theoretical form, nor can they. Flawed human nature makes that an impossibility. That said, imperfect capitalism is generally better than imperfect communism at allocating resources, but capitalism's excesses still need to be reined in sometimes. That can be done by regulation or by moral suasion, such as the admonishments of Pope Francis.

Economic theory defines the conditions that free markets need to operate properly (e.g. multiple buyers and sellers, perfect knowledge of the full costs of products, etc.). These rarely occur in the real world outside of econ textbooks. Market failure exists (e.g. misallocation of resources due to externalities). It is within the legitimate scope of society at large (government, spiritual or moral leaders, etc.) to influence economies to steer them back towards something approaching what you call "humane." That is what the pope is doing.

Just out of curiosity, is there any particular time and place in history where "pure capitalism" as you define it existed?

Unreconstructed Reb
Chantilly, VA

"Because its critics have no clue what true capitalism looks like. The U.S., for instance, is NOT capitalistic."

This approaches the "No True Scotsman" fallacy. Funny thing is that communists make the same complaint about the USSR and their economic preferences.

"It has more in common with fascism than capitalism."

Someone needs to sit down and have a serious look at what fascism looks like. Besides, I thought the conservative complaint is that we're on the highway to socialism. I do wish people would stop throwing these words around that they don't understand.

"The closer an economy comes to pure capitalism, the more humane it becomes."

There's a whole bunch of evidence, from Dickensian England to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory to Bangladeshi sweatshops, suggesting that's utter nonsense. The prophetess of pure capitalism, Ayn Rand, sneered at compassion: "Compassion is a wonderful thing. It's what one feels when one looks at a squashed caterpillar. An elevating experience....Compassion is the greatest virtue. It justifies suffering."

Kent C. DeForrest
Provo, UT

"Absent a moral commitment to human dignity, justice and compassion, capitalism is conducive to materialism, individualism and selfishness. It is a system that depends on virtues it does not create."

This is perhaps the best thing Gerson has ever penned. I have read Pope Francis's commentary on what he calls the "economy of exclusion." He hit the nail on the head again and again. My primary thought, when I read this document, was "Why is this enlightened view coming from the leader of the Catholic Church and not from the leader of the LDS Church?" I agree wholly with Unreconstructed Reb. This pope is a breath of fresh air in a stale world.

Linus
Bountiful, UT

Mr. DeForrest: "Why is this enlightened view coming from the leader of the Catholic Church and not from the leader of the LDS Church?"

I'll tell you why. God calls prophets and apostles to reveal the Gospel of Jesus Christ to "every nation, kindred, tongue and people" regardless of their form of government and regardless of their economic structure. Governments do not make men good. A man can accept Christ as his Savior under any form of government. It is not the calling of a prophet or of an apostle to stir insurrection or insubordination among the citizenry of any nation.

Lagomorph
Salt Lake City, UT

KC DeForrest: "This is perhaps the best thing Gerson has ever penned."

I'm not a regular reader of his column, and I don't often agree with him (but find him, along with Kathleen Parker, generally a thoughtful conservative compared to some other columnists), but I would second your comment. The quoted passage is an elegantly stated summation of the downside of capitalism. Very nicely put.

Linus: "It is not the calling of a prophet or of an apostle to stir insurrection or insubordination among the citizenry of any nation."

If an appeal to human dignity and justice and a criticism of materialistic consumerism constitute insurrection and insubordination, then we are living in a world where rebellion is definitely called for.

SEY
Sandy, UT

I was pretty sure I'd be the designated punching bag for this discussion. Much of what has been said to counter my remarks only confirm my belief that most critics of capitalism don't have a clear understanding of what it is. Ayn Rand, for instance, is not who I'd choose as a spokesperson for capitalism. Rather, I'd suggest Carl Menger and Ludwig von Mises.

Of course "pure capitalism" has never existed in real life, sorry not to take that bait. But there have been historic instances when capitalism existed in purer form than others. The so-called excesses of capitalism turn out to be excesses of government intervention, including suspending regulations and contracts that held the system together. They do it under the guise of "taming unfettered capitalism." It's a ruse that works every time (as illustrated in the comments on this article).

Every serious panic, recession and depression can be traced back to government intervention. Examples abound throughout the 19th century, including the England of Charles Dickens. If you want a readable exposition of this idea, I suggest the book "How Capitalism Saved America" by Thomas DiLorenzo. It will challenge your (incredibly) conventional views.

Res Novae
Ashburn, VA

@SEY,

Anyone who makes the immediate leap to fascism simply isn't to be taken seriously. And the notion that economic disruption is entirely traceable to government intervention is a very minority view among economists. Even the very free market Chicago School economists like Milton Friedman would disagree with that proposition.

If you can't take some gentle chiding about caring for the poor from the Pope, your ideology has become your own religion.

SEY
Sandy, UT

Res: I understand your point. However, I didn't say we live in a fascist society, it's just that we're so distant from true capitalism that we're closer to living in a fascist economy (not political fascism, a significant difference). And my response was not to a pope's "gentle chiding" but rather to Michael Gerson's economic ignorance. And finally, you make my point again in asserting that Milton Friedman is "very free market." Friedman prescribed GREATER intervention to prevent the Great Depression. The Chicago School is actually a watered-down version of Keynesianism, which is highly interventionist. After all, it was he who said to Richard Nixon, "We're all Keynesians now." I challenge you to do your homework regarding government intervention in disrupting the economic scheme.

1covey
Salt Lake City, UT

So, crass commercialism raises its head, again. Don't like it? Cut your holiday spending to have a simple, meaningful Christmas or other holiday that money cannot buy, after all. Enough people do this- maybe business will get the idea. The way we use our money is very persuasive.

Res Novae
Ashburn, VA

SEY, you're clearly a follower of the Austrian School. That's fine, but there are reasons that their ideas have never taken hold and that most economists today view their macro approach as outdated and unworkable. Starting with the lack of empirical evidence for their theories. In that sense they're right up there with the communist economic theorists. And as has been pointed out, both groups respond to criticisms with complaints that their ideas have never truly been implemented. No True Scotsman, indeed!

I challenge you not to assume I've done no homework on economic theory.

SEY
Sandy, UT

Res: I suggested you research economic history, not theory. Of course most economists dispute the validity of Austrian theory, but does that make them right? Most religionists dispute that Mormons are Christians, does that make them right? Far from being outdated and unworkable, no school of thought has a better grasp of the causes of boom and bust cycles, recessions and depressions.The way out of our current malaise is prescribed by Austrian economists but, of course, the concepts don't fit into the current crony-capitalist paradigm. So we'll just have to wait for the Keynesian model to implode. So I guess you haven't done your homework after all.

Res Novae
Ashburn, VA

@SEY,

Economic history is precisely where the validity of the Austrian School breaks down. It doesn't work in practice, which is why it has been discarded in favor of models that better explain economic tendencies. Your Mormons vs Christians analogy has nothing to do with it and has the same applicability as me countering that most people think that flat-earthers completely deny science and observed reality, but does that make them right?

Your views are fringe, even by your own admission. Stop assuming that just because people disagree with your opinion, they haven't studied the same issues you have.

Schnee
Salt Lake City, UT

@SEY
"The closer an economy comes to pure capitalism, the more humane it becomes."

Pure capitalism didn't have 40-hr workweeks, didn't have weekends, didn't have a minimum wage, didn't have workplace safety standards... these things were mandated by the gov't and I think they made the workplace more humane.

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