Sympathy for medieval stasis

George Will is at his rhetorical best in this piece, writing that Pope Francis doesn’t know how to cure poverty since “he embraces ideas impeccably fashionable, demonstrably false, and deeply reactionary.”

The saint who is Francis’s namesake supposedly lived in sweet harmony with nature. For most of mankind, however, nature has been, and remains, scarcity, disease, and natural — note the adjective — disasters. Our flourishing requires affordable, abundant energy for the production of everything from food to pharmaceuticals. Poverty has probably decreased more in the last two centuries than it has in the preceding three millennia because of industrialization powered by fossil fuels. Only economic growth has ever produced broad amelioration of poverty, and since growth began in the late 18th century, it has depended on such fuels.

Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist, notes that coal supplanting wood fuel reversed deforestation, and “fertilizer manufactured with gas halved the amount of land needed to produce a given amount of food.” The capitalist commerce that Francis disdains is the reason the portion of the planet’s population living in “absolute poverty” ($1.25 a day) declined from 53 percent to 17 percent in three decades after 1981. Even in low-income countries, writes economist Indur Goklany, life expectancy increased from between 25 to 30 years in 1900 to 62 years today. Sixty-three percent of fibers are synthetic and derived from fossil fuels; of the rest, 79 percent come from cotton, which requires synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. “Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides derived from fossil fuels,” he says, “are responsible for at least 60 percent of today’s global food supply.” Without fossil fuels, he says, global cropland would have to increase at least 150 percent — equal to the combined land areas of South America and the European Union — to meet current food demands…

As the world spurns his church’s teachings about abortion, contraception, divorce, same-sex marriage, and other matters, Francis jauntily makes his church congruent with the secular religion of “sustainability.” Because this is hostile to growth, it fits Francis’s seeming sympathy for medieval stasis, when his church ruled the roost, economic growth was essentially nonexistent, and life expectancy was around 30.

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One Response to Sympathy for medieval stasis

  1. A rather one sided view of the Middle Ages (actually a period of progress) – but I agree with most of the rest of the article.

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