Why Paul Ryan’s ‘economic approach’ to politics clashes with Catholic teaching

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., visits with Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, at Catholic Charities Fort Worth campus, April 3 (CNS photo/Juan Guajardo, North Texas Catholic Magazine).  House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., visits with Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, at Catholic Charities Fort Worth campus, April 3 (CNS photo/Juan Guajardo, North Texas Catholic Magazine). 

After widespread criticism, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has reinstated the chamber’s chaplain, a Jesuit priest and fellow Catholic, Father Pat Conroy. Many members of Congress believe the forced resignation was politically motivated. They claimed Mr. Ryan did not like Father Conroy’s prayer before the Republican passage of a bill reducing taxes on the wealthiest Americans. In that prayer, Father Conroy echoed Catholic social teaching, imploring that “their efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws.” For his part, Mr. Ryan denied the resignation was political but Father Conroy contends Mr. Ryan warned him: “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.”

What is clear is that many American Catholics like Mr. Ryan have grown deeply disaffected with the New Deal social democracy that was built at midcentury with massive support from Catholics. Understanding how American Catholicism went from F.D.R. and J.F.K. to Mr. Ryan is a complex story. But one key factor is certainly the adoption of what the economist Gary S. Becker referred to as the “economic approach” to understanding human nature and society.

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Indeed, Mr. Ryan has credited his entry into political life to the libertarian idea that human society should be understood primarily through the lens of economics. For Mr. Ryan this began in his youth, reading thinkers like Ayn Rand, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, who together schooled him in the libertarian understanding of “this economics thing.”

Many American Catholics like Mr. Ryan have grown deeply disaffected with the New Deal social democracy that was built at midcentury.

So what is this economics thing and why does it cause tension with the Catholic Church? After all, economics is made up of various competing schools and the church also encompasses a wide variety of possible political positions. Answering this question requires understanding the libertarian appropriation of economics and particularly rational choice methodology.

Rational choice is a helpful method used by many social scientists. However, libertarians adopt rational choice in a very specific way to make a political critique of government and in favor of markets.

Perhaps the most important assumption of rational choice is that humans are self-interested, rational preference-maximizers. Most economists accept that these are completely idealized and fictional models. Actual humans are neither rational nor self-interested in the ways assumed by rational choice. For example, they cannot rank all preferences because there are some goods (like human life or justice or religious observance) that lie beyond measurable, comparable value. Moreover, rational choice assumes individuals have stable, non-circular preferences. So someone who prefers A to B, and B to C, also prefers A to C. But psychologists like Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman showed that in certain contexts humans have unstable and circular preferences.

Nonetheless, libertarians like Mr. Ryan often insist the fictitious assumptions of rational choice economics demand a radical reshaping of the very real institutions of government. For example, if humans are rational and self-interested this entails that there is no such thing as the “public good.” The only thing that exists are collections of individuals with their own interests that may at certain times overlap. In this way a methodological fiction is used to deny a potential reality about society.

Libertarians like Mr. Ryan often insist the fictitious assumptions of rational choice economics demand a radical reshaping of the very real institutions of government.

This assumption, moreover, has very concrete political consequences. In her book Democracy in Chains, Nancy MacLean has brilliantly shown how the belief that there is no public good is used by American libertarians (including Mr. Ryan) to attack the New Deal. Public schools, public health, social security and so on are not really in any “public interest.” Instead, government should be limited to the protection of individual property rights and the pursuit of self-interest. For this reason Mr. Ryan often avows his goal has been to run “against big government.”

Yet these premises are incompatible with Catholic social teaching, which holds the concept of a “public good” to be central. So for example, Pope John Paul II in his Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Churchgoes out of his way to reject individualistic reductions of the common good when he writes that “the principle of the common good” is something to which “every aspect of social life must be related” and “does not consist in the simple sum of the particular goods of each subject” but “remains ‘common’ because it is indivisible.”

Libertarians assume a strong notion of public goods is dangerous.

By contrast, libertarians assume a strong notion of public goods is dangerous. It blinds citizens to the supposed fact that politicians and bureaucrats are never stewards of the commonweal but always self-interested actors, maximizing their own benefit. The key intellectual figure here is the economist James Buchanan, who advanced “public choice” theory by applying libertarian notions of rational choice to democratic institutions. For Buchanan government is inherently inefficient because politicians seeking reelection are incentivized to make thriftless promises of subsidies and benefits, while groups of citizens are incentivized to extract as much private gain from government largesse as possible. Thus, government always creeps towards socialist collectivism. As Mr. Ryan put it in a 2005 talk to an organization dedicated to Ayn Rand: “in almost every fight we are involved in here on Capitol Hill … it is a fight that usually comes down to one conflict: individualism versus collectivism.”

According to this dualistic brand of libertarianism, the alternative to a government creeping towards collectivism are markets where rational choice individuals pursue their own interests without interference or taxation in the name of make-believe public goods. Admittedly, this means that limited government may appear harsher on the poor. But ultimately, such libertarians assert, this is the only way to keep individual liberty and initiative alive. As Mr. Ryan infamously implied in 2014, programs like food stamps and school lunches may offer the poor a “full stomach” but they also give them an “empty soul.” Instead, according to Mr. Ryan, the United States should have an “incentive-based system” where the “safety net” does not turn into “a hammock” lulling people into “dependency and complacency.”

Once again there are tensions between Mr. Ryan and the church. For instance, John Paul II affirms markets are helpful for the production of wealth but there is nonetheless the risk of “an idolatry of the market” and thus “freedom in the economic sector... must be regulated.” Indeed, John Paul II even writes that the Catholic tradition requires a positive role for government as a “guarantor of systems of social insurance and protection that are designed above all to protect the weakest members of society.”

Ultimately this conflict between Mr. Ryan’s libertarianism and his Catholicism rests on rival anthropologies.

Ultimately this conflict between Mr. Ryan’s libertarianism and his Catholicism rests on rival anthropologies. Christ teaches that humans, although sinful, are capable of spiritual betterment and conversion that allows them to form communities of common purpose and solidarity (the church is the preeminent form of this association). Such widely disparate views of human nature have led Pope Francis’ advisors to publicly suggest that libertarianism and Catholicism are incompatible.

Does this mean that Catholics faithful to the church cannot be good Americans? After all, Mr. Ryan has publicly argued that “Ayn Rand’s vision” and that of other radical libertarians “go back to our roots [as Americans]” and help reveal “what our girding, undergrounding [sic] principles are.”

But the fact is the United States has always been comprised—in the words of Rogers Smith—of “multiple traditions.” Indeed, even Mr. Ryan’s own libertarianism is not the same as the classical liberalism often attributed to the Founders. For instance, a key figure within classical liberalism like Adam Smith did not believe society should be formed by individual, market-based self-interest, but instead argued for what he called “sentiments” like “fellow feeling” and “the agreeable bands of love and affection” between citizens. A society of economic self-interest was not enough.

As the political theorist S. M. Amadae has argued at length, libertarian notions of society break from classical liberalism and the belief that a society of mutual benefit can be formed without doing harm to others. This is most famously expressed in John Stuart Mill’s “no harm principle.” By contrast, the libertarian economic approach envisions calculative self-interest and not other-directed altruistic sentiments of a public good as binding society.

In other words, the political thought of both the Founders and 19th-century liberals is not equivalent to Mr. Ryan’s later, 20th-century libertarianism. In addition, America is not reducible to liberalism but has had indigenous forms of civic republicanism, social democracy, conservatism and other traditions of political thought. So Catholics have many ways of being American and political that do not run into the tensions of Mr. Ryan’s brand of libertarianism.

Mr. Ryan, meanwhile, continues to live out a very public conflict with the teaching authority of his own church. In addition to Father Conroy, he has clashed with women religious and even with the pontiff. Mr. Ryan says he admires Pope Francis but also dismisses his pastoral guidance on politics. When asked about Francis’s critical words on capitalism, Mr. Ryan responded: “The guy is from Argentina. They haven’t had real capitalism in Argentina.”

Perhaps Father Conroy and other American Catholics can take comfort in the fact that there was no real capitalism in Nazareth either.

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Mike Theman
3 weeks 1 day ago

I might be misreading, but this writer seems to be saying that government is the sole provider of the public good; as if, "public" good means "government" good. But as I have understood libertarianism, there is not a disbelief in public good (i.e., in people working together to better their society as a whole); the issue is whether government - particularly a Federal government disconnected from the people - is the best way to achieve that common good.

The Catholic Church that I grew up with never spoke about the importance of government in achieving the common good. It spoke (and speaks) about charity, about local organizing - yes, Church groups - and individuals working together to deal with societal ills. If the government want to sue taxpayer money to achieve a common good, then give it to local organizations, such as the Church, closer to the people for whom the needs are better understood. This not only helps give the needy what they need, but it prevents waste and misuse of funds. Not to mention that it cuts out the big salaries of government employees.

J Cosgrove
3 weeks 1 day ago

The Catholic Church that I grew up with never spoke about the importance of government in achieving the common good. It spoke (and speaks) about charity, about local organizing - yes, Church groups - and individuals working together to deal with societal ills

A lot of the Catholic Church is no longer interested in saving souls. Instead they are interested in a heaven on earth. The irony of all this is that those who hold these objectives are creating a potential hell on earth because they have no understanding of either human nature or economics.

I'm not sure this author understands either human nature or economics but is spouting terms he believes Ryan believes in order to denigrate him.

Ryan is close to a classical liberal but the author says otherwise. Ryan's approach to economics is closer to the gospel than the Catholic Church is. What is/was the most Catholic place in the world? The answer Latin America. Just look at what happens when Catholics are in charge of economics?

Also the author has quoted Ryan out of context on food stamps. He should retract his comment.

So I suggest the author do more reading. His understanding of the world is very deficient. If Catholics social teachings create hell on earth then I believe the Church should examine its teachings in this area. They should keep to saving souls.

Jaroslav Lunda
3 weeks 1 day ago

This article is not very good.
Instead, Catholics should stick with Hayek, Friedman, Centesimus annus (and Novak), Gary Becker and stay away from Ayn Rand, Ryan, JFK, etc. If someone is interested in relation between Christianity and libertarianism, the best way is Murray Rothbard (by the way he too shows some tension toward Ayn Rand).

Really wrong are sentences like "actual humans are neither rational nor self-interested in the ways assumed by rational choice". What does it means? Something like "Man, having been wounded in his nature by original sin, is subject to error and inclined to evil in exercising his freedom" (CCC 1714) but without "The divine image is present in every man" (CCC 1702)?

Ellen B
3 weeks 1 day ago

I guess Mr Ryan picks and chooses what is most expedient from Ayn Rand. For example, Ms Rand was a strong proponent of abortion, isn't that a libertarian position? And I doubt very much that someone like Mr Ryan who has never created a job or grown the economy would be welcome in "Galt's Gulch".

Anyone that says that school lunch programs & food stamps leave an "empty soul" with no experience at all of what it means to be hungry should look at the state of his own empty soul.

That said, from Fr Conroy's letter withdrawing his resignation, it sounds like Mr Ryan (through his chief of staff) chose to make a deal with individuals who do not like Catholicism in requesting the resignation in the first place. Mr Ryan does NOT hold the moral high ground.

J Cosgrove
2 weeks 5 days ago

The author distorted Ryan's comments. Read the original context of Ryan's statement. Ryan's ideas will help the poor more than anything the Catholic Church is recommending. Food stamps are over twice the level of the pre financial crisis despite low unemployment levels. So Ryan's ideas do clash with those of the Catholic Church. His are positive while the Church's are negative. That's the irony of the headline.

Stuart Meisenzahl
3 weeks 1 day ago

You have to wonder about an article in which an academic sets forth his take on Ryan's take of 1) Ayn Rand's views as combined with 2)Hayek's views, 3) Adam Smith's theories and views etc etc ...all as contrasted with the author's opinion on the import of St John Paul's writings and Pope Francis on all of the above and then the meaning of it all to governmental policy........YIKES.

The fundamental issue seems to be : can the individual outsource his obligations under the Sermon on the Mount/Beatitudes to government programs ? Or is the individual required to modify his innate self serving conduct to meet the commands of the Sermon on the Mount / Beatitudes.
The Church is fully competent to comment on the moral implications of the exercises of individual's free will in the area of economics. But it is entirely beyond the Church's competence to determine what are the best economic or political systems.

Joseph J Dunn
3 weeks ago

“Perhaps Father Conroy and other American Catholics can take comfort in the fact that there was no real capitalism in Nazareth either.”

There was plenty of capitalism in Nazareth, and nearby. Jesus’s encounters with capitalists, or other rich men, are worth pondering, since the Gospel is the cornerstone of Catholic social teaching.

Clearly the master in Matthew 25: 14-28 is a capitalist--one who puts his savings or wealth to use by investing, presumably in products and services that people are willing to buy. May we suppose that others in the New Testament who are described by the Evangelists as "rich", were also capitalists?

A “rich man who…dined sumptuously each day” failed to help Lazarus, who was starving at the rich man’s gate. This earns Jesus’s condemnation.
The Samaritan traveller who finds a robbery victim “half-dead” along the road treats the victim’s wounds and moves him to a safe place. The Samaritan goes beyond duty to generosity, making an open-ended commitment to help the victim. The Samaritan is obviously a person of some means, or the promise to repay the innkeeper would be meaningless.
Neighbors grumble when Jesus goes to Zacchaeus’s house for dinner. They call him a sinner. Because he earns his living as a tax collector, or just because he is wealthy? But Zacchaeus says, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” Over dinner they enjoyed the pleasant conversation of men who share similar values.
Jesus’s response to Zacchaeus differs from, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” where a rich man has kept the commandments, but becomes sad at the thought of selling what he has and giving it to the poor.
Joseph of Arimathea is “a rich man” and a “member of the council.” Jesus is content to lay in this man’s tomb.

Charles Erlinger
3 weeks ago

This article has the potential of being developed around its most interesting sentence: “Ultimately this conflict between Mr. Ryan’s libertarianism and his Catholicism rests on rival anthropologies.”

This central theme is obscured by the many sub-themes and topical references at which the author delivers “glancing blows” of referral. And, although developing the theme with the libertarianism attribution to Ryan introduces an argumentative element, that would have to be retained unless the entire discussion were to be abstracted from its topical origin. Retaining the attribution to Ryan, however, should probably be accompanied by some persuasive development that is convincing, showing that Ryan really is firmly an adherent to the form of libertarianism that the author implies.

I have long wondered what Ryan really understands by the aphorisms, mantras and one-liners that fill his writings and speeches with papal-sounding words like “subsidiarity.” Similarly, his references to those receiving some form of state assistance are sometimes described, somewhat disapprovingly, as possibly in need of better character development. There should be plenty of publicly available material to substantiate a coherent summary of what, just exactly is Ryan’s brand of libertarianism so that it might be fairly and unequivocally attributed.

Another matter that could be developed is the appropriateness of the Catholic Church having a position on economics. As a social science, the believability of theories of societal organization purporting to derive from economic analysis are quite dependent on the anthropological underpinnings on which basic assumptions of economics rest. And the Catholic Church has something to say about the understanding of the human person that forms the basis of anthropological underpinnings.

Finally, there is the question of whether, or to what extent, the Catholic Church should “stay out of politics.” This can be treated from the point of view of what is unarguably an area of the Church’s turf. The aspect of political involvement that seems most objectionable to some people, possibly including Ryan, is the interpretation of social justice. The Church, it can be argued, is on its own turf when it takes a position on moral virtue. Moral virtue has both a natural and a supernatural component. It has a natural component based on the most abstract and least controversial expression of natural law, namely, to do good and to avoid evil. It has a supernatural component based, in the Catholic Church’s case, on the Christian urgings, which, in overwhelmingly numerical majority, have to do with loving God by means of loving our fellow humans in very concretely described and specific behaviors, which are made possible, by the way, with God’s own grace.

The Catholic Church, obviously, operates in all sorts of environments with all sorts of societal organization models, which are commonly termed governments. The Church claims the right to express itself with respect to moral virtue in all of those environments. In the specific case of social justice, which is an expression of the distributive form of the virtue, it particularly applies to the authority in any and all the environments in which the Church operates. In the context of distributive justice, the authority is the unit of the community that owes a debt of justice, and the community member who is not the authority is the unit to whom the debt is owed.

But invariably, there is a significant asymmetry of power between the authority and the one who is not the authority. Consequently, whether social justice is practiced depends entirely on the virtue of the authority. In the case of justice, the virtue cannot be practiced with consistent benefit without the guidance of prudence. Both of these virtues must be characteristic of the authority. But, on the natural level, prudence and justice, being virtues, are habits. That is, virtuous acts cannot reasonably be expected from authorities that do not have developed habits of virtue. And on a supernatural level, virtues are conditional upon grace, thus further conditioning our reasonable expectations.

Chuck Kotlarz
3 weeks ago

For many articles including this one, comments tend to support either the aristocracy or “we the people”.

If an article advocates the public interest or the common good, aristocracy supporters invariably claim an article is flawed, inaccurate, etc. regardless of the article’s merits or the referenced expert’s credentials. Aristocracy advocates for nothing but its own wealth.

Everyone has heard of the “evils” of tax and spend big government. Nobody hears how big government pales in comparison to big aristocracy. The bottom half of tax filers have only half the income share they had in 1980. Big aristocracy now has the other 50%.

Stuart Meisenzahl
3 weeks ago

Chuck
Yet again you introduce and chase the word "aristocracy" through an article in America without ever defining exactly just what or who you think your so-called "aristocracy" is. Absent such definition your comment is again rendered meaningless.

J Cosgrove
2 weeks 5 days ago

Big aristocracy now has the other 50%.

They represent 20% of the people. So are you saying Big Aristocracy is 66 million people. Quite an aristocracy. Includes a lot of immigrants.

Chuck Kotlarz
2 weeks 5 days ago

Mr. Cosgrove, sixty-six million people perhaps overstates the size of the aristocracy. I would prefer to use the top .001%ers, about 1,500 tax filers. Everybody else in the 1% on average needed an entire year to earn what the .001%ers earned in three days.

J Cosgrove
2 weeks 4 days ago

I was just using your numbers.

Your whole idea of aristocracy is absurd anyway. Mostly Democrats by the way. You must love Trump and Ryan who are helping the middle class and poor.

Philip Pia
2 weeks 5 days ago

Ryan is a hypocrite beholden to the corporate and economic interests of his wealthy campaign donors. His policy prescriptions are devastating to the economically underprivileged. He is an acolyte of the high priestess of Libertarianism, Ayn Rand, another famous hypocrite, who justified and extolled human greed and egotism. If Ryan wants to privatize Social Security, Medicare, and other government-funded programs, then he can start by returning all the money he received to pay for his college tuition from his late father's Social Security survivor benefits. Ryan is the poster child for the fakery at the heart of the Republican Party's project today. Mr. Free Enterprise has spent his life in the bosom of government employment, enjoying the added protection of wingnut welfare benefactors like the Koch brothers.

Economics certainly does belong in the discussion of the Catholic faith.
Not Libertarianism but Liberation Theology, which is alive and well in Pope Francis' heart. Viva El Papa!

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 weeks 5 days ago

Liberation theology is a political movement in religious clothing. In that respect, it is very very much like Wahabi Islam. And both of these quasi religious political movements have left a path of destruction and deprivation wherever they have taken substantial root precisely because they are dependent on the imposition of economic policies through which they derive and maintain their power. Liberation theology is intrinsically an economic policy.

Philip Pia
2 weeks 4 days ago

Stuart, I respect your opinion; of course I and many other devoted followers of LT disagree with it. LT is critical Christology aimed at discovering who was Jesus. It is an invitation for more privileged Christians to join in fellowship with those who are more oppressed, to commit themselves to the messianic task of liberating human beings completely from everything that diminishes them and offends God. Critical reading of Guiterrez, Assmann, Boff, et.al., will lead most to conclude that it is, above all, a spiritual movement, and not a political or economic one. Personally, as one who has done much volunteer work in Brazilian Catholic base communities (Communidades Eclesiais de Base), I firmly believe that a tremendous amount of good has been achieved by LT through concrete actions that further the Church's "preferential option for the poor." No need to fret, though, it's still growing strongly and we are gaining new powerful allies within the Church everyday. (Yours Truly, from Conceição do Mato Dentro, MG)

J Cosgrove
2 weeks 3 days ago

Want to un-oppress people, institute free market capitalism. The only economic system that leads the oppressed out of oppression. Look at the differences between Latin America and English speaking America.

It is the real preferential option for the poor. Catholic social justice has a disastrous track record. Catholic charity has been amazing. They are very different.

J Cosgrove
2 weeks 3 days ago

True free market capitalism is where the buyer and seller are both essentially free. The legal system should do its best to protect both sides and only step in when it gets out of control. In other words minimize the role of government to the essentials.

Any form of socialism or extensive cooperation/collectiveness can only work as far as the eye can see. That is why tribalism has been so dominant in history. Wont work in a Nation State.

Chuck Kotlarz
2 weeks 1 day ago

Mr. Cosgrove, phrases such as capitalism with free markets and free market capitalism may sound identical. However, one promotes healthy capitalism, the other advocates aristocracy.

Philip Pia
2 weeks 3 days ago

Which "free market capitalism" are you referring to? Please do "look at the differences between Latin America and English-speaking America." U.S. policy through open and covert CIA interventions and support of murderous and fascist dictators has compiled a long list of interventions to topple and undermine democratically elected governments in Latin America. Most of it aimed at securing U.S. oligopoly control of markets and furthering the mercantile and neo-colonial interests of U.S. corporations. Is that your "free-market capitalism" that will lead the poor out of oppression?

J Cosgrove
2 weeks 3 days ago

Differences between two are obvious and not to any involvement of US in Latin America. Differences existed long before the rise of US global organizations. US mainly delivers innovation to everyone in the world. I suggest you provide specifics for your perceptions. If you want to understand the differences, read Niall Ferguson's Civilization. He discusses in detail how and why the two areas developed differentially. Modern day wealth flowed from a small area around the North Sea in England and Holland. To English North America and then to Western Europe.

Philip Pia
2 weeks 3 days ago

Niall Ferguson? Be real. And anyway, even if the proposition that the U.S. delivers "innovation" (whatever that is) were true, you fail to understand that much of the rest of the world does NOT want it when it comes at the point of a gun, or at the cost of exploiting the majority of the population to maintain the privileges of the wealthy few.

J Cosgrove
2 weeks 3 days ago

Interesting response. You want people to starve to death in squalor based on a false perception You are describing something that does not exist. I suggest you be specific about your accusations. When and where did all the supposed oppression and exploitation take place?

What did Niall Ferguson get wrong? His analysis seems pretty accurate to me. 7 billion being fed based on innovations flowing out of US and Western Europe.

Philip Pia
2 weeks 2 days ago

The original thread of the discussion was related to Ryan's Libertarian philosophy and why it clashes with Catholic teaching, as per the title of the article. And my response was that Liberation Theology is one approach to politics and economics that is consistent with Catholic teaching. The material foundations of LT were were provided only when popular movements and Christian groups came together in the struggle for social and political liberation, with the ultimate aim of complete and integral liberation, including spiritual liberation, by bringing the message of the historical Jesus to the world today. Liberation theology spread by virtue of the inner dynamism with which it codified
Christian faith as it applies to the pastoral needs of the poor. Many within and without the Church oppose LT, mainly because they fear it is an over-politicization of the faith, and they mistrust any use of Marxist categories in analyzing social structures. However, I personally believe that the criticisms are canards, and Red-baiting in nature. Evidently you do not accept the deep changes in the structure of capitalist society postulated by LT; I do. So let's leave it at that.

As for Ferguson, his stuff is entertaining enough, but his historical analysis has been exposed as counter-factual.

Finally, the "supposed" oppression and exploitation that took place is real. It started with European-based expansion in the Americas that was achieved through genocide of the indigenous population and an economic system supported, in part, by enslavement of human beings. These were immoral historical undertakings, and they are still sins that cry out to heaven for justice. Unfortunately, it did not stop there. If you are inclined, please read and dwell on this:

https://www.telesurtv.net/english/analysis/10-of-the-Most-Lethal-CIA-In…

Thank you for your interest in my comments. I do respect your right to your own opinions.

Chuck Kotlarz
2 weeks 1 day ago

Mr. Cosgrove, you may recall the ten most innovative states are non-Right-To-Work states and the ten least innovative are R-T-W states.

rose-ellen caminer
1 week 4 days ago

The US Monroe doctrine which prohibited European influence in Latin America, kept Latin America in a feudal system. This was American imperialism at work and allowed us to proper while making sure they did not.

Joseph J Dunn
2 weeks 1 day ago

Jason Blakely and several commenters are upset about Paul Ryan's enthusiasm for Ayn Rand's writings, and see conflict between Ryan and Catholic social teaching. A little of Rand might be useful to relieving some of the anxiety:

"The 'practical' justification of capitalism does not lie in the collectivist claim that it effects 'the best allocation of the national resources'. Man is not a national resource and neither is his mind--and without the creative power of man's intelligence, raw materials remain just so many useless raw materials.

"The moral justification of capitalism does not lie in the altruistic claim that it represents the best way to achieve 'the common good,'--if that catch phrase has any meaning--but this is merely a secondary consequence. The moral justification of capitalism lies in the fact that it is the only system consonant with man's rational nature, that it protects man's survival qua man, and that its ruling principle is: justice. Every social system is based, explicitly or implicitly, on some theory of ethics."
-- From Rand's essay, "What is Capitalism?" in "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal"
Professor Blakely references several writings of Pope John Paul II as opposing what he believes to be the Rand/Ryan ethic of capitalism. But Michael Novak, who collaborated with John Paul on several papal writings, had concerns about the economic extensions of Liberation Theology. So, I'm having trouble connecting some of Professor Blakey's concerns to the bigger picture of John Paul's writings, and vastly more trouble connecting anything in John Paul's writings to a defense of the economic extensions of Liberation Theology..

Philip Pia
2 weeks 1 day ago

Liberation Theology does not have a problem with capitalism as an economic system, per se. It was the specific type of "dependent capitalism" that took root in Latin America as a result of significant economic development based on import substitution policies instituted in the 1950s and 1960s. This benefited the middle classes and urban proletariat but threw huge sectors of the peasantry into deeper rural marginalization or sprawling urban shantytowns. Development proceeded along the lines of dependent capitalism, subsidiary to that of the rich nations and excluding the great majorities of national populations. On the international level, LT proposed that development and underdevelopment are two sides of the same coin; they are interdependent but unequal. By the end of the 1960s, this view was summarized along the lines that the poverty of Third World countries was the price to be paid for the First World to be able to enjoy the fruits of overabundance. Today, this line of thinking has been proved superficial and simplistic by the different paths of development taken by many countries that were once underdeveloped but are now successfully industrialized, including some that have substantially diminished poverty at the same time. However, the problem of widespread poverty and misery persists in many countries of Latin America and the struggle for social and political liberation continues, with the ultimate aim of complete and integral liberation. The history of the Vatican's reservations (not total opposition) regarding LT are complex. It grew increasingly complicated because what started out as an academic and theological exercise between Ratzinger and Boff, turned into a debate carried on with bombs and guns in Central America in the 1980s.

As for Ayn Rand, much of her writing does, in fact, increase my anxiety. Herewith:

"It was the morality of altruism that undercut American and is now destroying her."

"Capitalism and altruism are incompatible; they are philosophical opposites; they cannot co-exist in the same man or in the same society. Today, the conflict has reached its ultimate climax; the choice is clear-cut: either a new morality of rational self-interest, with its consequence of freedom…or the primordial morality of altruism with its consequences of slavery, etc."

"I am done with the monster of 'we,' the word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame. And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: 'I.'"

"The first right on earth is the right of the ego. Man's first duty is to himself."

"To love money is to know and love the fact that money is the creation of the best power within you, and your passkey to trade your effort for the effort of the best among men."

"The creed of sacrifice is a morality for the immoral…."

And then there is the problem of her own personal hypocrisy.

Joseph J Dunn
2 weeks ago

Good discussion. I have not followed the changes in the economic extensions of Liberation Theology, but I accept the changes you have described as having occurred since the 1980s. We might also agree that capitalism, as practiced today in many countries (with their varying degrees of regulation) has progressed from the slave-tading, colonizing practices of centuries past.

There is also agreement, I think, that quotes (especially brief ones) from any writer's extensive works, are of limited value, and can lead to missing the main messages of the writer. We should be equally cautious about relying on brief quotes of any pope, or of any Speaker of the House, or Ayn Rand, etc. I can quote passages from Pope Francis that rely upon economic growth, praise technology developments, and caution against welfare programs that actually promote dependency, but we all know his message is more complex that any single passage we might select.

I do note that this article relies upon some links to magazine articles published years ago, generally taking issue with some of Ryan's ideas. More informative, and certainly more current, is the extensive interview that America Magazine conducted and published in October 2104, where Ryan acknowledges some of Pope Francis's writings. https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2014/10/02/paul-ryan-w…. (For balance, America published a similar interview with Ted Kennedy a few weeks later.) In the interview, Ryan seems far from some of Ayn Rand's pronouncements. He also discusses some themes that were important to Pope John Paul II, and connects his proposals, which had changed significantly rom prior years, and in 2014 favored some social assistance methods embraced by Catholic Charities in several dioceses. It was the reliance on old articles, and the reliance on short passages of John Paul II's writings, plus the final paragraph of the article (which seemed a gratuitous comment) that caused my concern. Peace.

rose-ellen caminer
2 weeks ago

Libertarians who profess to believe that self interest is a prime motivator of human behavior certainly break the mold in how they glorify the military. What is more altruistic, more tribal, more of a collective mindset and least self interested, then volunteering to go join the military often leaving ones homeland ,career, young children , beloved spouses behind to worry knowing you might not come back. I don't believe these Libertarians really believe what they claim; they can be the most nationalistic i.e., tribal glorifiers of this quintessential expression of altruistic common good collectivism; the military. That they abhor big government is just a meme they got from Ayn Rand, or their learned belief in US exceptionalism; if other countries have big governments that provide for the welfare of its people, well then since we are so exceptional, providing for the welfare of ones citizens must be a BAD thing.[ if the rest of the democracies were not socialist democracies and we were, these "principled" opponents of big government would be saying that our socialist government which provides for the welfare of its citizens is the HALLMARK of our exceptionalism] Of course over time, the very big government programs they first oppose, become part and parcel of our civil society i.e.,mandatory free education, health care regardless of income, consumer protections etc. These libertarians are full of it.

rose-ellen caminer
2 weeks ago

Capitalism is a pyramid scheme. That's why you need government to control drug prices[ as in socialist countries] , and worker protections such as minimum wage. Capitalism can benefit all if there is big government that recognizes that people have the same basic needs[ economics] and rights[politics].As artificial intelligence and mechanization can replace much of manual labor, the government will have to provide a guaranteed living wage or income to all its citizens.[ Most people are NOT entrepreneurial geniuses]. The more advanced technologically we get and the more conscious [ and conscientious; i.e. , having a conscious of how others in the world are still toiling at slave wages] people are of how integrated the global economy is, the more this pyramid scheme will give way to more economic equity to those on the bottom. Libertarians are at heart Calvinist; pull- yourself- up- by -your- own- bootstraps,if -you're -rich- you- must -be- good, and -if -you're -in -need -of -food- stamps- you- are -bad, Puritans. Todays Americans, the young and the immigrants, are rejecting this economic Puritanism. Big government democratic socialist/capitalist hybrid is a coming to the USA. Right wing Republican Trump victory is the last hurrah!

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 weeks ago

Rose Ellen
I recommend you read and absorb an Article wriiten by Arthur Brooks published in America Magazine in February 2017 entitled "CONFESSIONs OF A CATHOLIC CONVERT TO CAPITALISM", Feb 6,2017. It illustrates the foolish nonsense of viewing capitalism as an oppressor of the poor and misguided faith in government as the real solution. Brooks details just how effective capitalism has been in raising billions out of poverty over the last 60 years. This conclusion is supported by empirical facts and is endorsed by such progressive sources as The Economist in an article entitled "Toward the End of Poverty", June 1 2013 and even by Barack Obama who declared in 2015 at Georgetown....."The free market is the greatest producer of wealth in history .......it has lifted billions of people out of poverty." The European big government democratic socialist/capital model you admire grew and exists only because of the protective umbrella of capitalist America. If you doubt that, you need only check the indignant squealing of the European NATO members when asked to contribute their 2% assessment of their GNP as required by the Alliance.

rose-ellen caminer
2 weeks ago

Stuart, appreciate your comments and your point. Here's my response.No doubt capitalism is the biggest creator of wealth in history. Its still a pyramid scheme requiring government checks on it. The socialist Europeans also have [capitalist] industries and corporations. Right now the ones squealing are the [few?] Americans wanting to sanction these capitalist industries for doing very capitalist business with[ capitalist loving?] Iran.
Yes all should pay their fair share of the NATO alliance. Their economy is smaller so of course their share is smaller. But it is the US that has military bases in other peoples sovereign nations. Something we would not tolerate. Our bases over there give us political and military leverage in countries in the Middle East and Africa which we want, independent of our NATO alliance. We benefit as much as those NATO countries do by our bases over there.

Though it is true that Americans are the most creative, hard working and innovative of people, a proud legacy of our Puritan past, what made us the economic umbrella of socialist Europe was also in large part, due to our having no world war on our soil, and an alliance during the cold war with the oil producing Saudis. While Europeans were driving small cars, because gasoline was expensive , we were proud of our gas guzzlers . We were paying below market for oil because of our alliance with the Saudis[ and 9-11 was fall out of that alliance as it was perceived as corrupt by Alquada. So much for our winning the cold war without a shot being fired] .This strategic alliance enabled us to build up our military and helped us win the cold war as business was booming in capitalist cheap energy post war America.Today we are as likely to be driving small cars as the Europeans do.

Contrary to what we say, Europe and the US are not natural allies. We have fought with many of these countries in the last century, and as we are discussing now, we idolize free market capitalism, they are socialist inclined. We idolize our Constitutionally protected first and second amendments; they value neither. We have abortion on demand, up until birth. I believe[ not sure about this] that abortion on demand up until birth is both repugnant and illegal in Europe.[ we're not even talking about religious Christians either]. We have a death penalty, they don't. Now we or Trump or the Republicans want the Europeans to stop controlling pharmaceutical prices which would result in their citizens being unable to afford drugs too! That they see as the remedy for our high cost of medicine.Why they continue to accept these US bases, escapes me. Though the NATO alliance is still valid.

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 weeks ago

Rose Ellen
I believe you have your facts almost exactly backwards:

1)Oil prices are set on a world market .....the difference between European and American fuel cost is accounted for almost entirely by government fuel taxes. Major Western European fuel taxes are 4 to 5 times the average combined US state and federal fuel tax AND ON TOP OF THAT THERE US A 20% VAT TAX on both the fuel and the fuel tax! The Saudis supply effected all world prices , not just US prices. Your thesis on oil prices is totally at odds with the facts.
By the way, you will find the same tax situation accounts for differences in electrical prices between the US and Europe. Those European taxes on fuel and energy are collected for use in those countries for the very socialist big government welfare projects you seem to admire. The price differences you decry are caused by the very government programs you want!

3) AlQaeda was founded by Osama Bin Laden because of the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia at the start of the Gulf wars. ...infidel defilement. It had nothing to do with any oil alliance...especially since the Saudis are members of the OPEC Alliance countries which you should note includes Russia and not the USA!

3)Pharmaceutical prices in Europe are set by the government because it pays for vast majority of the drugs. If all countries charged the same price as the European countries , medical innovation would dry up. Check out the minuscule number of drugs developed in Europe . Return on research investment is the heart of the problem and price determines that ROI.
The Europeans are "free riders" on this US innovation. Under the Trump proposal drug companies just may end up refusing to sell to European countries. The same is true of prices in Canada.

4)The share of NATO expense for military is computed as 2% of each nation's GDP , and as such their relative size is taken into account. Germany and France have been paying 1/2 of their required contributions for over 20 years. The Europeans have actually resisted withdrawals of US bases for over 50 years because they would be required to provide their own military substitutes. France opted out under deGaulle but quickly changed its mind when it was unable to provide the substitute forces and equipment it needed for its own "force de frappe". Enormous sums are spent by US forces stationed abroad and are serious factors in their economies. Since the end of the Cold War US troop numbers in Europe have dropped from 300,000 to 60,000.
5)Your statement referencing NATO .."we have fought many of these [European] countries during the last century"... is simply untrue. We have fought twice against Germany in the last century and no other country. The other countries were in fact all allies of the US.

6)Finally you state Capitalism is a pyramid scheme requiring government checks. But you apparently totally misunderstand the methods , meaning and results of a pyramid scheme . By definition pyramid schemes create nothing...they just move assets between parties....they move wealth but they do not and can not create it!! Yet you agree with Obama's statement that Capitalism is the biggest creator of wealth in human history and you thereby contradict your own basic argument.
.

rose-ellen caminer
1 week 4 days ago

1 The US government gives a lot of money to the pharmaceuticals for research purposes.Yet they can charge whatever they want for drugs with an eye in maximizing their profits as is the name of the game under capitalism. The drug companies are free riders using taxpayers money for research while maximizing their profits making drugs unaffordable to many. The rising tide of capitalism lifting all boats does not apply when people are in need of life saving or curative drugs that they can't afford because the drug companies can charge whatever they want . The socialists countries understand this and do not allow price gauging by drug companies.

2.yes the oil market is global but in the last century it was the Americans who built up the Saudi oil industry and so we had cozy deals with them for below market oil. We went to Iraq after 9-11 because we feared Alquada might topple that regime and end our cozy alliance with the Saudis. We picked Iraq because lo and behold, they had a secular non fundie population, and the second largest supply of oil . We build the worlds largest embassy there thinking that Iraq would be our new cozy alliance for the next century were those pesky Arabian natives to get too uppity and topple the Saudi regime but it back fired because though not fundie fanatics, the Iraqis did not ask to be "liberated" with shock and awe and so resisted. Though today that is not longer an issue for us.

3. Yes , the corruption of the Saudi regime was, for Alquada, the saudi's allowing military bases in their holy land. But they opposed this Saudi regime as they opposed all middle eastern regimes which they saw as serving western interests while oppressing the populations they ruled over. Contrary to our self serving narrative core Alquada were NOT fundie fanatics[ though fundies may have been in their ranks. Todays Alquada may be fundi fanatics. I'm not sure they all are though]. They saw themselves as freedom fighters against all western imposed or backed regimes, and their grievances against us included our sanctions on the Iraqi's which killed many civilians, our vetoing with a simple stroke of a pen every UN resolution which could have brought some modicum of justice to the Palestinians.,Our support for middle eastern regimes for cold war purposes or before that colonial interests[ England and France]

4. Italy and Greece were allied with Germany. The camps were in Poland ,not Germany. Anne Frank was captured by Nazis in Holland not Germany. Vichy France was allied with Germany; "occupation", being "conquered", "overrun", "collaborating"; history is written by the victors. We opposed European fascism; In Spain many Americans fought the fascists there. We opposed European imperialism; we told the French to get out of Viet Nam as their presence in Viet Nam was imperialism. [ and as soon as they left we went in].Our CIA meddled in European post war election politics to stop communist parties from gaining power. We fought in the Balkans in the 1990's.5." An attack on one is an attack on all"; Regardless of how many troops a country provides. This does not mean that all should pay the same share. As some countries populations and economies are smaller then others. Certainly then ours. .France has used its military unilaterally [ outside NATO , at its own expense?] in Africa;Mali and to end the genocide in Ruanda. We have military bases in France now? Though Europe benefits from our military bases economically its not a quid pro quo. Our military bases all over the world have given us the power and ability to use force or threaten to use force wherever we want, maintaining our super power military status.

6.Unfettered capitalism needs to be tempered by government. That is the role of socialism in democracies. Not to replace private industries but to make sure their is no exploitation by capitalists and that capitalism leaves no one behind. Capitalism leads to growth in gnp and yes, standard of living, but, especially with todays technology, which can replace a lot of manual labor, with globalization, continuous growth does not necessarily mean better quality of life for all ;it can mean greater economic disparity, too few winners and many losers , that results in oligarchy and or "global North's" vs. "global South's".

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week 3 days ago

Rose Ellen
1) The US Government dies not give money to pharmaceutical companies for research.
2)The US through government or or otherwise has never been able to buy Saudi oil for below market prices. Aramco discovered and developed the Saudi oil fields. It was owned by a consortium of US companies and the Saudi Government until the Saudis squeezed those US companies out starting in the early fifties. The Saudis were founding members of OPEC which has been used by the Arab and Socialist member countries to influence world events since the Yom Kippur War
3) Your recitation of events in the rise of AlQaeda is a morass of personal opinion unmoored from fact
4) Your conflating of European nations over run by the Nazi Germany with the WW11 allies of Germany is beyond distorted.
The NATO agreement requires each of its member countries to spend at least 2% of its GDP on in kind military contributions to the NATO forces. By its terms this arrangement takes into account the relative size of each of the Members. Despite that commitment many NATO members have consistently failed to met this target........Germany , despite its enormously healthy economy has for years spent approximately 1% or less.
5) If you believe socialism is the answer I suggest you review the recent events in Venezuela. If you refer to the type of "socialism" as found in the Nordic countries then I suggest you examine how those countries describe their own systems. ...free market capitalism with very high tax rates (well over 50%) to create a very broad social welfare system. This inturn is based on the social compact of a very small sized and homogenous population......smaller than New York City with a single ethnicity!

Robert Helfman
1 week 5 days ago

It is apparent from giving even a cursory reading of these comments that there is a state of alienation informing the conscious awareness of many of the lived experience of the poor and marginalized in our midst.
While I cannot prescribe a remedy for this problem, were those so afflicted with the illusion of economic privilege to spend time serving the needy in a soup kitchen or even more on point be a recipient among those who receive the benefits from of the State and Federal safety net and local charities they might have a more sanguine view of social services and might change their point of view.
While Catholic social teaching is admirable and is grounded in the Prophets and the New Testament, most Catholics betray an apparent lack of awareness of these sources for an inclusive social awareness of compassion and responsibility.
While Bishop McElroy may have pointed the way to an enlightened discussion of the common good, he has conveniently avoided mentioning the numbers of otherwise "fine and upstanding" people including Catholics have enabled the election of our present chief executive because of his "pro-life" rhetoric. While this is a forgivable transgression against common sense one hopes that it is possible that those engaging in a perceptual course correction will find it is possible to admit the failure to engage fully in the political arena without falling prey to the poor judgement attendant on idolatry and self-serving ideology.
This is something I can charge Paul Ryan with without reservation. As to his Christian credentials, let alone Catholic I might hold personal reservations that are more severe. He is neither Catholic nor Christian.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week 5 days ago

Robert
It was an acute and informed awareness of reality that led to the Chinese proverb:

"Give a man a fish and you fed him for a day; Teach a man to fish and he learns an occupation which will feed him for a lifetime"
You seem to think that only the first half of this proverb is worthy of attention. I believe Ryan's Catholic approach involves implementation of both halves.

Robert Helfman
1 week 5 days ago

I like the proverb. In this context it is not apt in my view. The BS comes in when it is assumed that the job exists and the poor are lazy; in this case, there ae fish in the pond and one needs to know only how to bait his hook and catch dinner.
There is a song with lyrics from Isaiah 55:1,2 and Mathew 11:28-30: COME TO THE WATER, by John Foley, S.J. Bless those songs by the St. Louis Jesuits! Food, shelter and the necessities of life are a human right, which come before one earns a penny.
I appreciate the civility of your reply, having countered Trads with an agenda. However, if I may say so your comment reinforces mine vis-a-vis the alienation of the elite.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week 5 days ago

Robert
Step one of Ryan's approach fits your criteria: a tax bill to help create jobs ....which all the statistical evidence to date indicates has in fact happened

Robert Helfman
1 week 5 days ago

I have read commentary on Paul Ryan, some of it from Sr. Simone Campbell in the Obama years and others where it appears the over-all thrust of his political agenda appears to have elements of that fraud and conceit some wealthy Conservatives try to pass off as social reform-privatizing SS is one of these. To make the agenda appear virtuous and worthy of approval a bait-and-switch manipulation of legislative issues disguises the method- while the end result is hidden from view before the damage is done.
He is a sophisticated con man. I am afraid there is very little you can do to convince me otherwise; although I protest in antecessum that I have an open mind and have arrived at these conclusions precisely because I have looked at all the facts of the case, as it were.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week 5 days ago

Robert
First You criticize Ryan for not considering more pure safety net legislation because there are no jobs for the poor. Then faced with the fact that Ryan's tax bill tackles and has succeeded in creating jobs for the marginalized, you simply retort you don't trust or believe him. That is fine and your prerogative, but don't plead an open mind.

Robert Helfman
1 week 5 days ago

I cannot expect you to like my opinion of Ryan and that is o.k. However, you should consider the facts. I am not criticizing him for not considering more pure safety net legislation. As for the tax bill, the only one I know of is the one recently passed in Congress. If you refer to any legislation in is home state that is another matter. I have never heard of a tax bill creating jobs for the marginalized nevertheless. Even should this be the case it serves to illustrate my point in regard to manipulation of the political process.
Please keep in mind that the author of the above article has stated that Ryan is not in sync with Church teaching and I am commenting on both the appropriateness of the article and the issue of Catholics often not thinking beyond ideological paradigms when considering appropriate candidates for political office. I can make this charge against most Bishops in the Church as well. https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/news/a57140/paul-ryan-nu…
Advocates: GOP Tax Bill 'Devastating' for Marginalized Groups ...

This is the era of fake news and alternative facts. God bless you for taking the time to respond in this forum. We disagree about more than politics, it is clear.

John Corcoran
1 week 5 days ago

What was that story about money lenders in the temple then? Remind me again what Christ did?

John Corcoran
1 week 5 days ago

I suspect the Universal Catholic Church, stands open mouthed in shock at the ideas neoliberal American "Catholics" spout! To most of the Church these ideas are essentially schismatic to the message of loving thy neighbour as ones self, and having a preferential option for the poor!

J Cosgrove
1 week 4 days ago

I suggest that you point to places where the Church's policies have led people out of poverty. Where are the results? Those who oppose a lot of Catholic social teaching like myself believe there are much better ways to help the poor. Am definitely for lots of individual charity but this is only a temporary salve and far from a long term solution

The term "preferential option for the poor" is a meaningless term until fleshed out with results.

Joseph J Dunn
1 week 3 days ago

I agree with much of what you have written on this article, but "Am definitely for lots of individual charity but this is only a temporary salving far from a long-term solution" caught my eye. I suspect there is no "long term solution" to poverty. First, because the gospel itself tells us the poor are always with us. Also, because we measure poverty in relative terms--America's poor of today have, in fact, a higher standard of living than America's poor a century ago.
But more to the point, much of this progress was brought about by individual charity.
Aristotle defined it (Generosity, ελευθεριωτης,) as the mean between two extremes: prodigality (wasteful spending) and meanness or stinginess on the other. In other words, giving “to proper persons, in right proportions, at right times.”.I think the more we utilize subsidiarity, the more success has been, and can be, achieved.
I think it's also why Jesus praised Zacchaeus's work, which apparently a lot of Zacchaeus's neighbors either did not know about, or for some reason did not respect.
I'm impressed by what both large foundations, and small contributors, have achieved in boosting America's and the world's knowledge of health, education, nutrition, etc., all of which redound to the "common good" but more important;y to making individual lives easier.
Cheers.

J Cosgrove
1 week 3 days ago

Essentially I agree. Charity is both a good way of helping those in need but also very beneficial to the one helping. Both these points get lost in the current progressive mania to solve everything quickly through government policy which usually has negative effects.

My point overall is the obvious one that until about 250 years ago most of the world was in extreme poverty and now a large percentage are thriving economically but maybe not spiritually or culturally. The progressives fail to acknowledge this change as well the way it happened. They are immune to evidence and thrive on emotion and self righteousness.

J Cosgrove
1 week 3 days ago

As and example of the progressives not seeing or acknowledging the negative effects of their policies, look what has happened to the black community since the War on Poverty in the mid 1960's. The black community has been devastated due to family breakdown. Will the progressives here acknowledge this. No, their response is to call others racist and will definitely not look into the mirror.

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