Reading Up on Argentina, Birthplace of Pope Francis


With the Pope’s visit to the U.S. this week, now is a good time to add a few choice items to your reading list.

Pope Francis is from Argentina, a country in crisis. That includes economic crisis. For background to the history of capitalism and free enterprise in Argentina, have a look at The Crisis of Argentine Capitalism, by Paul H. Lewis. Paul Lewis-Crisis Argentine Capitalism-book coverArgentina once boasted a vital economy. Today it struggles under a regime that has frittered away the capital of a storied nation and crippled economic opportunity among the rank and file. Lewis documents the history of this condition and explains the unique story of economic decline in Argentina. In the same vein is Vito Tanzi’s informed on-the-ground account in Argentina: An Economic Chronicle—How One of the Richest Countries in the World Lost Its Wealth. Tanzi, an Italian, spent three decades working in various roles for the International Monetary Fund.

For those seeking a travelogue, Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia is the celebrated gold standard. Condé Nast, a travel journal, ranks it among “The 86 Greatest Travel Books of All Time”. The London newspaper Telegraph includes it among “The 20 Best Travel Books of All Time”. William Dalrymple, writing for The Guardian, proclaims it his favorite book in the category of travel literature. He judges that it is probably the most influential travelogue since World War II.

Uki Goñi-Real Odessa-Nazi War Criminals to Argentina-Book CoverMany have forgotten, or never knew, that Nazi war criminals found safe have in Argentina under Juan Perón. Uki Goñi narrates this story in his book The Real Odessa: How Perón Brought the Nazi War Criminals to Argentina. He documents collaboration between Perón and the Vatican. Kenneth Maxwell reviews the book in the journal Foreign Affairs. For a fuller description and evaluation of Goñi, see Richard Gott’s review in The Guardian. Gott doesn’t dispute the evidence of Catholic collusion.

Altogether incidentally, one of my favorite films, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford (1969), recalls the demise of these affable ruffians in a hail of bullets while hiding out in Argentina.

Note: All links are to Kindle editions at Amazon.com

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The Pope’s Support for Immigration and His Tacit Approval of Free Market Enterprise


Pope Francis is visiting the United States. He’s made several appearances, including a White House visit and an address before the United States Congress. His criticism of free market enterprise, of a capitalist economy, is well-known. Some have wondered whether he fully understands the unique expression of capitalism in the United States. It’s true, his views have been shaped by his experience coming from Argentina, which could not differ more extremely from political and economic arrangements in the U.S. But I wonder if he understands more than these commentators think.

Pope Francis Addresses Congress-2015.09Today, while speaking before Congress, Francis lauded the importance of an immigration policy that welcomes those seeking to improve their life circumstances. He called for, or commended, a humane and just policy that would allow movement across our borders. He was speaking to the U.S. Congress where the debate about immigration and border control is intense. The Pope weighed in on that debate. While his remarks were delicate and deferential, he did encourage adoption of an immigration policy that is welcoming.

Of course, he offered no detailed proposal for our border policy. Nor did he even hint at one. That would be a form of meddling that would be politically disruptive and unbecoming of a prominent religious leader who is visiting from outside the United States and enjoying the hospitality of gracious hosts. At any rate, there is little fodder here for left-leaning politicians to exploit in support of their open-borders preference. There’s nothing in his remarks to suggest that we should adopt this or that particular policy about border control.

What I find it interesting is this. The Pope urges hospitality toward those who simply wish to make a better life for themselves, while also adopting a negative posture toward a free market economy. The Pope recognizes the advantages that life in the U.S. affords those seeking greater economic opportunity. For the most part, immigrants from the south aren’t seeking political asylum; rather, they desire economic prosperity that is not available to them in their home countries. Capitalism, despite its shortcomings, is the engine that drives prosperity in this country. And the idea that a capitalist society such as ours should, as a matter of justice and hospitality, find ways to assimilate immigrants looking for a better life is tacit approval of capitalism.

This approval goes deeper even. For the Pope considers it morally commendable for this capitalist society, which has so much to offer legitimate immigrants, to share the fruit of an economy that increases opportunities for prosperity. This is tacit agreement that capitalism is not intrinsically motivated by greed, or essentially dependent on greed for its sustenance.

In addition, it is not accidental that the desirable fruit of our economy is the product of a free market system. I believe such a system is the only system that could bear such fruit. The alternatives, especially Marxist alternatives, are barren in this regard. The gross failure of economies south of our border explains why there is such a flood of immigrants into the United States.

The Pope’s concern for the poor and his efforts to galvanize collective efforts aimed at eradicating poverty is admirable. Free market enthusiasts argue that capitalism offers the greatest hope for achieving this ambitious goal. I concur. I suggest that the Pope, perhaps unwittingly, advocates for a qualified version capitalism when he urges us to share the fruit of our economy with those seeking a better life for themselves.

I would add that what is good for our economy is good for any economy. In fact, the poor of Central and South America would benefit even more fully if they could enjoy the fruit of a growing economy such as ours—without leaving their own countries. The Pope is uniquely positioned to work toward this goal. He hails from Argentina and is head of a church that dominates that part of the world that lies south of our borders.

The Pope has urged humane acceptance of immigrants. It is at least as humane to create opportunities for them that do not depend on immigration. And a successful policy for border control should include measures that would encourage the spread of capitalism from Mexicali to Tierra del Fuego.

Why We Fight: A Film Discussion Guide


Why We Fight is a documentary film directed by Eugene Jarecki. According to the DVD cover, this film “launches a nonpartisan inquiry into the forces—political, economic, and ideological—that drive America to fight.” Why We Fight was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005.

I’ve screened this film in my course on “Faith, Film and Philosophy.” Here are the discussion questions I developed for use in discussing this film: Read more of this post

What Say You? China, Human Rights, and American Business


The Beijing Olympics have raised awareness of the ongoing trampling of human rights by the Chinese government. Some have suggested ways of using this occasion to send a message to China. But the Chinese government knows of our disapproval. So the problem is not awareness but action. At the same time, American corporations, large and small, have invested heavily in China.

The United States government has not imposed an embargo on American business activity in China. And maybe that’s best. But here’s an alternative. Suppose the U.S. government stipulated that American companies are free to do business in China as long as they discontinue business in the United States, until human rights grievances in China are addressed. American companies would then be in the position of making the decision about whether to do business in China. As a result, free market activity would create pressure on China to move toward real democracy, without direct government action on the part of the United States.

  1. Could the United States government actually impose and enforce such a restriction?
  2. Would this sort of restriction be compatible with American democratic values?
  3. Would a restriction of this kind be an effective deterrent of human rights violations (the idea being that American corporations would put pressure on China to revise its practices as a condition for doing business there)?

What say you?

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