Papal Economics, Anyone?

Papal Economics, Anyone? January 29, 2014

Hey book reading public, I’m working through my review copy of Papal Economics, and I could really use a discussion group. Anyone interested?

Here’s the scoop:

1. It’s a good book. As analyses of the intersection between history, economic theory, papal encyclicals, and political ideology go, it’s eminently readable. I’m a good ways in, and basically we’re just skimming through the major economic encyclicals, begining with Rerum Novarum, and seeing what they do and don’t say, and how that matches up with what people think they say.

2. The people we’re talking about are not your neighbor Bubba the yellow-dog Republican. We’re talking about the Novaks and the Keynes and all those guys, who give your yellow-doggers of every stripe their one line of rhetoric to abuse you with at coffee and donuts every Sunday.

3. The thing about papal encyclicals is that if you know what they’re talking about, they’re really quite straightforward. Long sentences, big words, and complex paragraphs not withstanding, they’re just these documents where these Catholic guys (the Popes – generally a pretty Catholic bunch) give the smackdown to a whole lotta nonsense, and remind people to keep their Catholic on.

4. But people really like to dissect encyclicals like last week’s traffic accident, looking for a Deeper Meaning that happens to support their favorite soundbite excuse for economic policy. (Or whatever. This book’s looking at the economic stuff.)

5. So Maciej Zieba is doing great work with his book, at least as far as I’ve read. He wades through the muck and sorts out fact and fiction.

6. But it sure isn’t light. Readable, but not light.

–> By “not light” what I mean is that if someone is doing squeaky voices in the background, and periodically interrupting you to show you Instagram pictures, that makes it a lot harder to finish a paragraph.

7. Prerequisites you’ll need in order to be able to follow along with the book:

(a) A working knowledge of history, economic theory, and Catholic teaching. We can be flexible on that last one, because, hey, catechist here, I can get you up to speed.

(b) A willingness to look up big words. I always forget what “telelogical” means. You probably have a word you forget what it means, too. Or you tend to do like I do, and nod and pretend you know what it means, and hope you guessed right. You have to actually look up the words and know their meanings in order to read this book.

(c) Acceptance of the fact that before it’s all over, you’re going to have to go read the encyclicals themselves. Which is actually a whole lot faster than reading the book. But like I said, the book helps you wade through all the nonsense surrounding each encyclical, so it’s a genuince contribution.

Reassuring Book Club Rule: We are not going to do a poll to see which encyclicals everyone’s read already. You can totally just be quiet about the 387,000 seminal works you’ve never read. We’ll get to the ones we care about when we care about them, and not a minute sooner.

8. So this is one of those Introverts Unite! situations, where I could really use some discussion partners. If you’re game, speak up. Leave a comment, and a link to your blog where you’ll be chit-chatting if you tend to go more than one paragraph, and let’s get the ball rolling.


FYI – Yeah, I’m busy, too. It’s not a giant hurry. But there sure aren’t a lot of people who can talk intelligently on these topics, so if you’re one of them, or you’re willing to try to play such a character on the internet, speak up.

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