Unleash the Capitalists
How disillusioning to read your editorial Trading Jobs (4/5). I expected something better from a Jesuit publication than this stale diatribe on American capitalism.
To begin, let me compliment you on your initial observation on the outsourcing phenomenon. The loss of jobs due to their exportation is indeed a very small portion of the overall job losses in the current economy. This is as true now as it has been throughout our history. Currently, because of its emotive power, outsourcing is a lightning rod for political purposes.
As to your further observations on the American economy and your prescriptions for job creation, let me offer the following counsel. It is not the role of any business to create jobs. It is the responsibility of a business to make a profit (within an overall defined legal, moral and ethical milieu) and to provide this profit to the investors in the form of a return on their capital. The creation of jobs is an ancillary byproduct of American business. Although employee considerations should be an important factor in any business decision, no businessperson who wishes to stay in business long can translate this consideration into a mandate for job creation or retention. To do so would be economic suicide.
As to your recommendation for the inclusion of labor unions, community organizations and environmentalists in the negotiating of trade agreements, we should remember that these are international economic compacts, not political ones. Unless you are a proponent of the creation of an international economic quagmire instead of a global marketplace, these institutions would be better served at the local and national negotiating tables.
Your two-part prescription for government intervention in the form of increases in new taxes on business and increases in public funding for job re-training are quite frankly tired, old and ill conceived. Historically, raising taxes and/or increasing the government bureaucracy are steps toward stagnation and decline, and have been no solution for any economic problem.
As for your proposed formula of improvements by the business community, they are similarly misguided. Contrary to your opinion, the unequivocal fact is that high-stakes gambling is not the economic function of options and derivatives. Risk-aversion, however, is. Risk-aversion is a fundamental economic principle. Corporate takeovers do generate enduring health for the companies involved, although not necessarily in their original form. Preoccupation with quarterly returns, although a factor in business decision making, is but one of many variables considered in making decisions on long-term investment.
In conclusion, let me concur with your observation that only the business community can bring major improvements in employment prospects. The purpose of these improvements, however, should not be, as you say, to rein in aggressive capitalism. Rather, they must be for the purpose of unleashing American capitalism. Only free markets can create jobs.
San Francisco, Calif.
We Can Act
Your editorial Food, Shelter or Medicine? (3/29) correctly locates the challenges of widespread chronic hunger in the public policy sphereunemployment benefits and emergency food and shelter programs.
The editorial cites last fall’s document from the U.S. bishops, Faithful Citizenship, which calls us to action. Not only public servants, but all citizens have responsibilities for our brothers and sisters. It is not enough to respond to crises. We must weigh the long-term social impact of public policies. Christopher Cocozza made this point well in his article Paying the Piper in the same issue of America.
We can act at the ballot box. We can also advocate policies that will help people meet their basic human needs. Working together brings positive results. For example, Bread for the World, a Christian citizens’ movement, has been advocating effectively on behalf of the hungry for the last 30 years. Bread for the World’s approach can be applied in many spheres of action for justice.
Only the Beginning
In Facts, Myths and Questions (3/22), Thomas J. Reese, S.J., expresses skepticism that there can be six to 10 times as many victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy as have come forward.
I am a prosecutor, handling mostly cases in which the state is seeking commitment for treatment of serious sex offenders. It is generally recognized that sex offenders, particularly true of pedophiles, have more victims than are known. There is no consensus on the ratio, and it is a difficult question to study rigorously.
An estimate of six to 10 times as many victims as have come forward seems a little high as an average, but not as a range. I recently reviewed a psychological evaluation of a pedophile who admitted to at least 12 times as many victims as had been known to police. That is unusually high, but nearly every offender I have seen who abused children was eventually found to have had at least three times as many victims as were known at the time of the first allegation to authorities. An average of four or five unknown victims for every known victim does not seem unreasonable. For the same reason, it is very likely that most of the abusers were serial offenders, even though only one allegation was reported against them.
We should not underestimate the power of sex offenders to coerce silence and denial in those who have been sexually abused as children. A child pornography ring based in Wisconsin was broken up a few weeks ago, and some of the children whose assaults were depicted in the seized videotapes nonetheless denied in police interviews that they had been sexually abused.
Finally, the phenomenon of fewer allegations against religious than diocesan priests is interesting. Father Reese speculates that this is because of the greater isolation of diocesan priests. An alternative, sadder and at least as plausible explanation is that religious orders have been even less forthcoming about abuse than have the bishops. Orders have even less accountability to the laity than bishops and have greater ability, in concert with bishops or independently, to move offenders about.
Father Reese is correct when he says the John Jay report is only the beginning.
Juan B. Colas
Not the Enemy
I am a small dairy farmer in western Wisconsin. In response to An Imbalance of Power (3/1) by Cesar Ferrari and Carlos Novoa, S.J., I ask that consideration be given to the American farmer. For 70 years American agricultural policies have been developed to keep food inexpensive. As our food tastes changed and we moved from direct consumption of farm products to consumption of processed food, farmers witnessed a dramatic decline in their percentage of the food dollar. Farm programs have increasingly replaced market-derived income to make up the difference between market price and the farmer’s cost of producing the product.
Let me be clear. The price I receive for milk is well below the costs I have invested into producing milkeven with the direct government subsidies I receive. In dairy farming this problem has reached a critical point. Dairy farmers have arguably had the worst two years in history.
For 21 months the price of milk (which is set through a complex government formula that neither senators, reporters nor cheese makers can explain) was at 25- to 30-year lows. Farmers sold off assets and cattle, took out loans, fired employees, used savings, did not pay bills, and spouses took off-farm jobs. The stress this has created in farm families is magnified by the culture of silence about rural poverty. Inevitably bankruptcy, domestic violence and suicides resulted.
This is in America. Wisconsin lost almost 1,000 dairy farms last year (a little more than 6 percent of the total). Policy makers say without the new Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program the number would have been much higher. Yes, I said new. Dairy farmers did not receive milk subsidies prior to the 2002 farm bill. Yes, dairy processors receive program benefits (that are supposed to trickle down). And yes, there is a federal program for buying cheese and butter when prices are low. But participation in this program is voluntary (by the cheese makers), and the money goes directly into the pockets of cheese makers, not farmers.
Agricultural statistics tell us that farm income is almost entirely related to subsidies. Without them there would be no net farm revenue. Hence I would caution against removing farm subsidies without visiting questions of structural reform, including the adequate enforcement of antitrust laws that should prohibit the market power that food companies wield.
The subsidies labeled farm directly benefit food processors and leave farmers impoverished. The enemy of the third world farmer is not the American farmer but large food companies that benefit from farm subsidies by keeping inputs as low as possible. It is convenient for these profitable companies to hide behind the impoverished American farmer. The problem is an inequitable structure, built over many years, that allows food companies, through their influence on the market and government policy, to control farm prices without assuming any of the risks of farming.
Thanks so much for your exhortation about pilgrimage to the Holy Land (Of Many Things, 4/12). I was there last year, and I am going back this year. Yes, the Via Dolorosa is no cakewalk, but when was it ever? The Holy Land pilgrimage has become a form of adventure travel for today’s Christian, who needs to find some of the faith and courage that carried John Bunyan’s Christian on his travels in spite of terrors and difficulties. It is an unforgettable experience that will change you, spiritually, physically, politically and in every other way. I wish the church would preach pilgrimage from every pulpit. How much more rewarding it would be than yet another dreary jaunt to Las Vegas, Cancún or Disney World. This is realitynot the contrived version on television, but the real reality. There you will find the original Good Samaritans, and they really are like that.
San Diego, Calif.
State of Life
Thanks to Russell Shaw for his excellent article, What Vocation Shortage? (3/29). The clarity of his exposition of a word that has assumed a lot of baggage over the years is helpful to all of us in the church. Particularly helpful was his identification of state of life as only one meaning of the word. His emphasis on the personal vocation of each individual and his call for parishes to become schools of vocational discernment are most welcome.
He admits his prediction that emphasizing the personal vocation and giving greater place to continuing discernment will ease the shortage of candidates for priesthood and consecrated life is a large one. We will not know unless we try. I hope we will try in serious and multiple ways. Strengthening the sense of personal vocation can only help each one of us in the churchwhatever our state of life.
Amy M. Hoey, R.S.M.
Russell Shaw’s confidence in discernment of vocation is unbounded (3/29). Of course, people in the fields of spiritual theology and spiritual guidance have long been advocating such discernment. But the following statement gives me pause: If many more Catholics practiced ongoing discernment regarding their personal vocations, many more would discover that they are called to the priesthood or consecrated life. Really? That may be Shaw’s personal belief, but it would need a lot more proof than Shaw demonstrates. There are no simple answers to the issue of special vocations in the church.
Kenneth Smits, O.F.M.Cap.