By the Pontifical Academy for Life’s own statutes, Mariana Mazzucato should be removed as a member. This is obvious. But how did she ever get appointed? Archbishop Paglia’s explanation that her works were vetted beforehand is inadequate. In her books, she voices support for the U.N.’s goals of sustainable development. Goal #5, women’s equality and “reproductive health,” is notoriously ambiguous. The goal was deliberately written in such a way as to make it possible for both pro-life and pro-abortion constituents to sign onto it. The Vatican even issued a statement saying that it could support the goals only on condition that #5 was not interpreted to include legal abortion.
Archbishop Paglia was therefore under a responsibility of what is known as “due diligence.” Mazzucato’s support of Goal #5 was a “red flag.” It was Paglia’s responsibility to defuse the reasonable doubt by putting to her the question, “Do you believe that women’s equality implies access to ‘safe’ abortion?” He could have done so through an email, or in one of Mazzucato’s visits to the Vatican. He wouldn’t have needed to discover her views through her tweets.
I don’t believe that Mazzucato will be removed. But her continued tenure, I think, may prove a blessing in disguise because it reveals a serious lack of awareness in Catholic laypersons that really needs to be remedied, quickly. And Mazzucato’s approach to the Covid crisis reveals questions which must be answered if we are to assess properly what really happened.
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Some have defended the appointment by saying that it makes sense for the Vatican to seek input from all kinds of views. But Mazzucato has been giving input to the Vatican, in an official role, for over two years. In April 2020, she tweeted that she was thrilled to be working with the Vatican’s Covid-19 Task Force, preparing weekly briefings which, she claimed, the pope went on to use in his speeches. No need, then, for her to be made a member in the Academy for Life in order to give input.
But what did she think of the Covid lockdowns? “Let’s not let this crisis go to waste,” she urged. Covid was an occasion for the government to seize control over the economy, she said, so that henceforth businesses would be compelled to advance a green agenda. “As companies…come asking for bailouts [c]onditions can be attached.” This radical reset of the economy “must be done now, while government has the upper hand.” She attacked Donald Trump in particular, of course: “This is no time for nationalistic thinking.”
Catholics are unaware of her more general economic views. They accept, perhaps at face value, Paglia’s assertion that Mazzucato is a scholar of “absolute importance.”
Let’s step back for a moment here. What does such language mean? I’ve never heard any scholar or scientist described in this way. Any reasonable person would disclaim being of “absolute importance.” I suppose if we accepted that she was “absolutely important,” then that settles it and all controversy must come to an end.
Others, who apparently doubt her “absolute importance,” have wondered why it was not possible to find someone to advance the same economic views who was also at the same time pro-life.
Here we come to a more interesting question. The pro-life position is marked by exquisite realism. To be pro-life means to be attentive to nature, to accept reality, and to accept responsibility for lasting consequences of our actions, especially difficult consequences. But is it possible to find an economist with such an outlook who would embrace Mazzucato’s broader economic views?
She is a firm defender, for instance, of that exercise in wishful thinking known as Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). “It is indeed true that a household can’t go on spending more than it earns for long without selling possessions, securing more income or cutting expenditure,” she says, “But governments don’t work that way. The reason is simple: they print the money.” She scouts the idea that governments need to borrow or tax in order to spend. This is “reverse logic” because, “In reality, [government] spending itself creates money.”
These quotes are from a book advocating what she calls “moonshot capitalism”—her view that the government should take control of the economy to achieve idealistic “missions,” the way that NASA sent a rocket to the moon.
With positive glee she celebrates the U.S. Federal government’s multi-trillion-dollar unfunded deficits in 2020 and 2021:
When Congress agrees to spending measures, it usually sends two instructions to the Federal Reserve. One is to add dollars by computer to the credit of the U.S. Treasury…the other is to subtract dollars in the form of agreed taxes. In the case of the $2 trillion [“stimulus”] package, however, the instruction was only to add dollars. Money was indeed created out of thin air.
She then wonders why similar money hadn’t been created in the past “to provide clean drinking water for the residents of Flint, Michigan” or, “for that matter,” to create a national health system fully stocked with hospitals and good doctors. Surely $2 trillion (and the $3 trillion added in 2021) would be a good start toward such a system? (“For that matter,” one might wonder with her, why doesn’t the Vatican institute a sovereign currency, print money, and thus create wealth for itself, instead of relying on German gifts?)
But is there no limit to government spending, she asks? If government can create money by spending, why doesn’t it just spend and spend and spend? “The answer is inflation and how much of it can be tolerated.”—Ah, right, inflation. Reality check.—Which has nothing to do with equality, although it robs especially the middle class of its equity.
Elsewhere, she raises doubts coming from so-called “public choice” economics about the government’s ability to steer the economy in the manner of the Apollo mission. She gives a fair statement of such concerns:
Policymaking…is considered to be subject to capture by interest groups, in particular those most able to influence policymakers because they have power and money. Capture might involve nepotism, cronyism, corruption, rent-seeking…misallocation of resources…or unfair and damaging competition. Capture by special interests is all the more possible, it is argued, because collective action by voters tends to be weak.… In public administration, the lack of competitive pressures leads to “bureau-maximizing” behavior, whereby departments and agencies look after their own survival rather than the “common good.”
Yes, all completely correct, I can tell you, as a resident of the Washington, D.C., area; except I would say, more accurately, that departments and agencies look after their growth not their mere survival. They take success at their work and year-over-year increases in their budget to be the same.
After stating all of these problems very accurately, Mazzucato then says—I kid you not—no empirical evidence has ever been found to support them. And thereafter in her book she simply ignores these issues!
In the face of all this, I say: Catholics, become educated. Use Mazzucato’s appointment as a goad to read her books. Start learning how people like that think, since the policies she supports, shared by many powerful global actors, will impoverish you and your children, and, ultimately, are not compatible with a free society.
[Image Credit: Enel]