Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Of Dingoes and Deacons

Trigger warning. This post discusses missing and exploited children. If this is the sort of topic that bothers you, come back tomorrow for the hidden link between GDP and Justin Bieber.

Adam The OG sends a tale of coercion in the First Estate. In 1955 Ireland, a single mother gave up her baby at the behest of the Church. To avoid burying the lede:
Such was the power of the church, and of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, that the state bowed before its demands, ceding responsibility for the mothers and babies to the nuns. For them it was not only a matter of sin and morality, but one of pounds, shillings and pence. At the time young Anthony Lee was born, I discovered that the Irish government was paying the Catholic church a pound a week for every woman in its care, and two shillings and sixpence for every baby. And that was not all.
After giving birth, the girls were allowed to leave the convent only if they or their family could pay the nuns £100. It was a substantial sum, and those who couldn't afford it – the vast majority – were kept in the convent for three years, working in kitchens, greenhouses and laundries or making rosary beads and religious artefacts, while the church kept the profits from their labour.
Sometimes the bootleggers and the Baptists are one and the same.

Consider the institutions here. From a broad point of view, the proscription against single motherhood was likely adaptive for farmers. Fixed land assets and stationary capital depend on intergenerational discounting to have a high enough PDV to justify the expense. The "sin against God" fig leaf covered justifiable concerns about the relationships between land and labor, lord and fiefdom. Imagine the Domesday Book without clear lineage.

So the alliance between the first and second estates did well in promoting institutions that supported the feudal-manorial systems, though it should be clear by the time that 1955 rolled around, the memo that the times they were a-changin' evidently hadn't reached the desk of the Irish archdiocese. The mostly adaptive institutions that had supported an Ĺ“conomy of culchies and lords stuck despite the transformation to burghers and the House o' Commons. And this is pretty much what you should expect. Why should London, Rome, and Dublin be on the same cultural timetable? Why should NYC and Moscow be on the same cultural timetable for that matter?

You can read this story several ways. The author seems to be going for the human tragedy angle. You can also look at it as the Church conspiring with the state to a) exploit the powerless and b) rip off the taxpayer. You can even see it as a simple tragedy in service of a larger, mostly-useful institution.

For the EE-minded? It's a matter of inseparable institutions. On their own, both the state and the Church were doing what they thought was right. State officials believed they were serving the needy – funding cash-strapped parishes sure sounds charitable. And the Church thought they were doing the Lord's work, as they had understood it for centuries. But both of these notions were based on clear misconceptions about the nature of the alliance between the estates. And that's the great tragedy.

It might even be that a similar tragedy exists when the second and the third estates seek to collaborate. The errors of corruption that arise from unwarranted state support (or "regulation") of trade may well look quite benevolent from afar, without the benefit of prudent discipline. But get up close and you'll find children torn from parents, or pallets full of cash vanishing under the relentless glare of the Iraqi sun.

Crony beware.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?