Monday, December 02, 2013

OPINION - Shields and Books 11/29/2013

"Shields and Brooks on the pope's critique of capitalism, Thanksgiving gratitude" PBS Newshour 11/29/2013


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the week's top news, including the short-term Iran nuclear agreement, the pope's writings on capitalism, proposed changes to campaign finance rules and things to be grateful for.
DAVID BROOKS:  .... really have to be tough on, the Iranians are counting on us, or the entire world, that the sanction regimes will begin to dissolve, that once companies get the chance to make some money in Iran, it will all fall apart.  Somehow, if the Western alliance can really hold the sanctions together, then this is a worth -- a risk worth taking.
DAVID BROOKS:  The Saudis -- though, to be fair, the Saudis are really upset.  The Gulf states are really upset.  The Israelis are really upset.  The people who are most vulnerable to an Iranian nuclear weapon are really upset.  And that, to me, is to be trusted.  It seems unlikely that a regime that went so far to get a nuclear weapon is suddenly going to pull back and give it up.
HARI SREENIVASAN:  OK.  Let's shift gears.

The pope came out with -- I want to get this correct -- his first apostolic exhortation.  It was his first major work, big report.  In there, he takes quite a few very specific jabs at capitalism, calling it a new tyranny.  I mean, popes in the past have had these concerns before, but really he's laying this out.  And some of the sort of pope watchers, experts are saying that this is the agenda for how to reform the Christian church.

DAVID BROOKS:  Yes, well, I -- I actually have a lot of sympathy.

I'm a fan of capitalism, but I have a lot of sympathy for it.  And it should be remembered that Benedict and John Paul II issued some extremely critical statements on capitalism.  That is the job of the Catholic Church, to be a balance to the materialistic drives of our culture and of economy.

I guess I would wish he would emphasize two things, first, that capitalism over the last 25 years has been an incredible moral good.  It has reduced poverty more in the last 25 years than ever before in human history, mostly in Asia.  But that's been a phenomenal good.  That's relieved suffering.  And that has been a product of capitalism.

The second thing I would say is sometimes I think the analysis and some of the language used this time was too narrowly economic.  One of the things capitalism does is, it does enhance and exacerbate the sin of pride, making yourself, the material world the center of your universe, instead of God's will.

But the doesn't only happen in capitalism.  That can happen in faculty clubs.  It can happen at NGOs.  And so that is a spiritual sin.  And to talk about some of the spiritual sins that capitalism encourages in a broader scale seems to me the right way to do it.  To focus on a certain sort of economic theory, that seems to me a little out of the pope's lane.

MARK SHIELDS:  I think it's very much in the pope's lane.

And I think that survival of the fittest has never been a tenet of either Judeo-Christian values or Christian -- our culture.  And I think the pope has confronted us with a fundamental question:  What are we first?  Are we a free market system, that we have confidence that, untrammeled and unfettered, it will eventually provide good for more people?

Or are we a community, a community of human beings of equal dignity, and that a capitalist system, a free enterprise system, under regulation and required regulation -- and that's what he -- that's the difference he makes more than any to me in the economic sphere, which is not private charity and private generosity, which have always been important, but that we have a collective responsibility to make that sure all of us, the least among us, through our collective instrument of government, have education, have health care, have shelter, have food, that that's not just a matter of individual kindness or compassion.

And I -- to me, that was it.  And David's right.  It's not a deviation from John Paul II or Benedict or past popes, but the emphasis that he brings to it, the passion he brings to it, that Pope Francis does, as well as the sense of engaging the world, I mean, it's an optimistic, upbeat, and passionate pope that we are seeing right now who drives a Ford Focus.
MARK SHIELDS:  We had 32 years, from 1976 to 2008, in which we had elections.

As somebody who spent his early year in politics, before I turned to journalism, by default, I can tell you, they were clean.  Ronald Reagan three times ran for president.  He accepted the limits on contributions, the limits on what you could spend, and he ran on public financing in the fall elections, when he won 49 states one time and 44 the next, George H.W. Bush twice, Bill Clinton twice, George W. Bush.

And it changed in 2008.  President Obama was the first president not to abide by the limits in the general election.  And then along comes the Citizens United case decision at the Supreme Court, which took off all limits on spending.

We had in the last election $470 million contributed by 100 individuals.  And we don't know through these 501(c)(4)s, which are -- list themselves as social welfare organizations, charitable organizations, we don't know who is contributing.  They can hide behind that.

So, we have gone from total disclosure and limitations to no disclosure and no limits.  And anybody who thinks that is good for politics in the long run, you know, I just wish anybody on the Supreme Court who voted that way had ever run for sheriff, because they would know, people who give money in large amount in politics are basically not altruistic.

They have some issue.  They have some interest.  And it's -- you know, it may be world peace.  It may be preserving carried interest.  But it's not altruistic.

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