Episode #134: Second Interview with Father Robert Sirico

Biography

Father Robert Sirico is the president of the Acton Institute, He lectures at colleges, universities, and business organizations throughout the U.S. and abroad.  His writings on religious, political, economic, and social matters are published in a variety of journals, including: the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal. He is also a parish priest in Grand Rapids MichiganIn his recent book Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy, Rev. Sirico shows how a free economy is not only the best way to meet society's material needs but also the surest protection of human dignity against government encroachment.

Segment One—Ed      

Note: Our first interview can be heard here

Has the bishop in Grand Rapids given you the dispensation to eat corn beef and cabbage today (St. Patrick’s Day)?

Father Sirico is working on an Italian edition of his book, Defending the Free Market, due out this Spring.

I see, based on your twitter page, that you have met the Holy Father. How did that go? Father Sirico gave the Pope a copy of the movie, Poverty, Inc.

Regarding Pope Francis, is it too simplistic to excuse his thoughts on capitalism as just being due to his Weltanschauung of capitalism equaling cronyism?

On Twitter, one person said, "Since [Father Sirico] propagates views opposite to  decades of established Catholic social teaching, however, he ought to be excommunicated.”

Today, I was told in a Catholic Social Teaching Facebook group, when I suggested that federal welfare programs perhaps do more harm than good, he replied, "More harm than good? Wow, not allowing destitute senior citizens and at-risk poor kids starve to death is somehow harmful? We in America are a society, a community, and will be judged on how the weakest among us are treated. And you, sir, get an F.” 

I think this is because many people fail to understand the difference between civil society and government. Your thoughts?

Segment Two and Three—Ron

The entire discussion in these two segments were about Acton Institute’s latest movie, Poverty, Inc.

The movie open with this Machivelli quote: “The reason there will be no change is because the people who stand to lose from change have all the power, and the people who stand to gain from change have no power.”

Why does that describe the “global aid system” today?

It’s hard to compete with free. How can markets develop when shoes, food, etc., are given away for free. When Peggy Noonan asks Ronald Reagan: “What’s wrong with socialism?” Reagan replied, Well, it doesn’t work”

The movie takes on the Christmas song by Band-Aid song (“Feed the World”). It gives the impression that Africa is desolate, that nothing grows there, etc. Yet Africa is rich in oil, diamonds, gold, and other natural resources. The problem is it is disconnected from trade.

Government-to-Government Aid

The movie shows Bill Clinton admitting he was wrong with regard to Haiti by selling rice so the country could supposedly leap past the agriculture stage of development and skip to the industrial stage.

Agricultural subsidies keeps out poor farmers from selling to rich countries, while rich countries produce surpluses which they then sell/give to poor countries, which drives out of business local farmers.

The dignity of work is so important.

The only antidote to poverty is wealth, yet the poverty infrastructure never discusses wealth creation.

NonGovernment Organizations

Someone in the movies discusses a conversation where the person says, Now that you survived the earthquake, I hope you survive the arrival of all the NGOs.

There are over 10,000 NGOs in Haiti!

But when you give someone something for free, continuously, not only do you create dependence, but eventually you create resentment as well.

There’s nothing wrong with disaster relief, but when they stay for 40 years we have a problem.

Foreign Aid (“Official Development Assistance”)

Since Post WWII, the Breton Woods system created the International Montetary Fund and the World Bank, and of course we had the Marshall Plan. Even the Catholic Relief Charities receive 70% of its funding from government.

But not one country has ever developed from aid, not one!

Social Entrepreneurs

Does the founder of TOMS shoes really want people to not have shoes for the rest of lives?

If TOMS shoes is successful within the existing framework, all you are doing is making the existing system more harmful. Doing the wrong thing more efficiently is just creating more harm.

Adoption

The movie shows a couple who were spending $20,000 to adopt a Haitian child whose mother wants him. Approximately 80% of Haitians kids have at least one parent; they are called “poverty orphans.”

Because orphanages are coveted positions: they provide an education, food, shelter, etc.

One mother got a job, and moved from a tent to buying her own two-bedroom home.

Credit

The movie interviews Muhammad Yunus, the microfinance founder. While small and  large companies can get credit, the middle-sized business does not. If they do, it can cost 6-10% per month in interest.

As microfinance failed, or perhaps not lived up to its hyped expectations?

Rule of law

Poor countries lack secure private property rights, functioning courts to adjudicate disputes, and most people are locked out of the formal economy.

The economist Hernando de Soto says in 2/3 of world, there’s no rule of law.

No property rights means for the 60-70 million farmers in Ghana, they might have to buy their land 4-5 times. In Peru, it takes 289 days, working 8 hours per day, to start a business. De Soto documents all of this, and more, in his book: The Mystery of Capital.

Theological Question

Rabbi Daniel Lapin wrote in his book, Business Secrets of the Bible: “The opposite of wealth is evil. If wealth is not being created, then evil is being done.”

Do you agree?

Celebrities (the “Icons of charity”)

Bono admitted that commerce lifts more people out of poverty than aid. However, he insists aid is still needed, unless you are “brain and heart dead extremists.” He also insists that we need to move from paternalism to partnership.

There’s not enough talk about wealth creation.

Ron’s Thoughts on the Movie

1. Wealth is the only known antidote to poverty. We only have the word poor because of the Bible.

2. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

3. Modified Christopher Hitchens quote: The icons of charity are “not friends of the poor, but friends of poverty.” It’s obvious that who benefits from the existing system are all of the players mentioned above, not the poor they sanctimoniously say they are helping.

Last Segment—Ed

During the end of our last interview, you said you were considering writing a book on economics and the parable of our Lord. Here is one I often use, but I wonder if I perhaps am taking it too far out of context?

Luke 12: 13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”

What are your thoughts on the difference between empathy (I feel your pain) and compassion (to suffer with)?

Another word we do not hear talked about much today is “maturity.” It certainly isn’t displayed by both sides of the aisle in Washington DC.

What are your thoughts on sanctuary cities?

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Ed Kless

Ed Kless joined Sage in July of 2003 and is currently the senior director of partner development and strategy. He develops and delivers curriculum for Sage business partners on the art and practice of small business consulting. Courses include: Sage Consulting Academy, Business Strategy and Customer Experience Workshops. Ed is the author of The Soul of Enterprise: Dialogues on Business in the Knowledge Economy, a compendium of a few of the episodes of his VoiceAmerica talk-show The Soul of Enterprise: Business in the Knowledge Economy with Ron Baker, founder of the VeraSage Institute where Ed is also a senior fellow.