2013 March 10 Sunday
Pope Francis, The Poor, And Progress (or lack thereof)

As you might have heard, the new Pope from Argentina wants the Catholic Church to be all about the poor. The pope also warns against "demonic worldliness". I would like to take issue with this framing of the world.

UC Davis economic historian Gregory Clark, in his book A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World, laid out a mechanism by which natural selection worked to create a more productive and prudent middle class in England. It was because that middle class worked very hard in this world to achieve goals in this world (produce more and better stuff and make more money) that the genes and behavioral traits for middle class prosperity was selected for. If, say, the most skilled English people were held in thrall of the idea that poverty was some sort of positive good this selective pressure would have either been slowed or prevented. The escape from the poverty and suffering of the Malthusian trap would not have been possible if Pope Francis' world view had held sway in England.

This is brutal and harsh to say (at least to some liberal ears), but back in the Malthusian Trap era more alms to the poor would have caused the poor to make more babies and for the middle class to make fewer babies. The Malthusian Trap period of suffering would have lasted much longer.

Ron Unz has recently applied Clark's analysis to China in his essay How Social Darwinism Made Modern China: A thousand years of meritocracy shaped the Middle Kingdom (and see Peter Frost on same). The same thing played out in China. Centuries of hard times for the lower classes have been necessary for the lifting of most of the human race up into the industrial era.

The great tragedy of our current era is that this selective pressure has been lifted. criminals are having more kids than non-criminals. Dummies are having more kids than smarties. The "poor" is really a euphemism for the dumb, those with high impulsiveness and low discount rates, the mentally ill, and the criminal elements of society.

If we had a rational mainstream political debate one of the big questions would be how to reduce suffering among the "poor" while also reducing their rate of having kids who are doomed to be poor (and I can think of ways to do that without necessarily reducing their fertility btw). That's not a discussion Pope Francis or the vast majority of secular liberals are willing to entertain. But unless we accept how we came to be capable of creating an industrialized civilization and why we are at risk of losing that capability our civilization will decline.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2013 March 10 07:24 PM 


Comments
chris said at March 18, 2013 6:17 AM:

"The great tragedy of our current era is that this selective pressure has been lifted. criminals are having more kids than non-criminals. Dummies are having more kids than smarties. The "poor" is really a euphemism for the dumb, those with high impulsiveness and low discount rates, the mentally ill, and the criminal elements of society."

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. I have a strong suspicion that it is the agreeableness of liberals that allows them to cling to their utopian delusions. Criminals, while being low iq, are also disagreeable. And I have a strong suspicion that the defining personality trait of those in the "Dark Enlightenment" area of the mano/gameo/sphere is disagreeability.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agreeableness

Baltimore said at March 18, 2013 6:44 AM:

"This isn't necessarily a bad thing."

Then you can pay for it.

Black Death said at March 18, 2013 7:42 AM:

I'm not Catholic, and I have little interest in popes and popery. But Pope Francis is certainly saying good things and garnering lots of favorable coverage in the media, and I wish him all the best. He's new at his job, and it's only fair to give him some time to carry through on his lovely pronouncements. If he truly wishes to help the poor, he might start by liquidating some of the Vatican's expensive real estate in the UK, Switzerland and France that was paid for with Mussolini's money. Or he might be a little more forthcoming about the role he played during the period of Argentina's brutal military dictatorship.

Ultimately, the new pope will be judged by what he does, not what he says, and I sincerely hope he follows through. Perhaps he will take seriously the words of Jesus concerning those who preach charity but don't practice it.

Baltimore said at March 18, 2013 8:09 AM:

Black Death said at March 18, 2013 7:42 AM:

We'll always have the poor with us.

Randall Parker said at March 18, 2013 7:14 PM:

Black Death,

But is the pope saying things that address root causes? Maybe on corruption he is. Though he didn't seem to have much impact on corruption in Argentina.

If the Pope follows through: Why will that help? Say he redistributes Church wealth to the poor. Really, why will that help? I think it'll make our problems with the poor even bigger.

Sam said at March 19, 2013 10:01 AM:

There's a simple way to resolve this which may happen if the economy falls further. You get government assistance, you take birth control. A shot every three months. Too bad there's not one for men.

Dr. Illusion said at March 19, 2013 1:30 PM:

Completely agree with Sam.

Check it out said at March 19, 2013 5:44 PM:

"The "poor" is really a euphemism for the dumb,"

What the hell are you talking about Randall? Are you saying that the rich are rich because they are intelligent?
Well that is just a load of bull. In that case we would have to accept that George Bush is smarter than Stephen Hawking and the Mexican top narcos are more intelligent than any modest-living Fermilab scientist, which would be nonsense.

Randall, Randall, come on, pleeeease!

Randall Parker said at March 21, 2013 8:15 PM:

Sam,

I do not recognize an unlimited right to reproduction.


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