Pope Benedict Xvi Questions Capitalism; Prez Sirleaf Embraces

By J. Yanqui Zaza

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
August 4, 2009


In her Independence Day Speech delivered in Bong County on July 26, 2009, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, unlike other world leaders such as Pope Benedict XVI, did not mention the economic system that is increasing the gap between rich and poor. And she did not comment on why Liberia’s international partners including the U.S. are alarmed at the rate of rampant corruption under her watch (President Sirleaf’s letter to her advisors, FrontPage, Liberian Web Site), even though her government continues to institute capitalistic measures: downsizing poor employees, giving excessive allowances to few advisors, selling natural resources, privatizing utility entities, shifting resources from social programs to debt payments, etc.

Neither did she give any indication that her government will host a national conference to discuss an economic system that makes it difficult for companies such as CEMENCO to increase the price of cement, an allegation her chief lieutenant, Vice President Joseph Boakai did not question. On May 24, 2009 VP Boakai, in New York, responding to the issue of constant increase in the price of cement, stated that CEMENCO was operating as a cartel or was engaging in monopolistic practices. So, are other businesses.

The Pope, looking for an economic system that inhibits monopolistic tenets, did address politics and economics (NY Times, 7/8/09). Contributing to the discussion of abject poverty, ignorance, civil wars, etc Pope Benedict XVI has called for a radical rethinking of the economic system (i.e., capitalism) that seeks profits against the “Common Good” of society. His encyclical paper also denounced the World Bank and International Monetary Fund for coercing poor countries to shift funds away from development toward liquidating onerous debts that benefit de facto owners of the World Bank. Further, he even urged financiers (capitalists) to “…rediscover the genuinely ethical foundations of their activity.”

Prior to the Pope call to do away with an economic system that concentrates wealth in the hands of the few, the world billionaire George Soros, whose salary was $2.1 billion in 2008, (NY Times, 2009) also differs with President Sirleaf’s views on capitalism. In his book called “The Crisis of Global Capitalism,” he said that, “The main enemy of an open society is no longer Communist but capitalist.” The French president Nicolas Sarkosky thinks so too. “Laissey-faire capitalism is finished,” Sarkosky said. (Financial Times, 11/08/08). This is so because the desire to make super profits does prevent the effective implementation of policies, thus allowing capitalists to game the system, he continued. At the United Nations, Rev. Miguel D’Escoto Brockman, the Nicaraguan President of the U.N. General Assembly said the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few was the main cause of genocide and similar scourges. (NY Times, 7/23/09).

The carnage in Liberia was not genocidal, yet it is disturbing that President Sirleaf is aloof to the idea of discussing reasons why few individuals accumulated enormous wealth. Without hard evidence, it appears that her re-election is suspending any discussion, and not other reasons such as the efforts to cancel on $4.8 billion debt. Why the re-election? Her political supporters, Monrovia-landlords and de facto owners of the World Bank, prefer capitalism. Therefore, she will do nothing, including conducting an investigation, to undermine, or say anything against the principles of capitalism. For instance, even though the Economic Forum held in Paris, France in 2009 was organized by European leaders who want a mixed economy or modified capitalism, President Sirleaf used the occasion to advocate for Wall Street-capitalism and trash government’s intervention as a hurdle to ingenuity and an incentive for rampant corruption.

At the home front, she repaid her 2005 campaign financiers (i.e., local capitalists) when the government abated Monrovia-landlords’ real estate taxes and at the same time paid them arrears in rent. Additionally, to ensure that her economic advisors will continue to do favors for de facto owners of the World Bank, President Sirleaf successfully negotiated for some advisors to receive $5,000.00 to $29,000.00 per month. Further, her government allocates about $5,000.00 per month to Liberian lawmakers, a payment system that guarantees them a luxurious lifestyle, and makes them approve concessionary agreements favorable to profiteers.

Surely, even before the 2008 financial crisis on Wall Street that showed that huge salaries do not reduce corruption, President Sirleaf should have been aware of the situation. Better yet, a discussion at a national forum would have indicated if a good salary alone does discourage bureaucrats from being bribed or in fact, it exposes government bureaucrats to glamorous lifestyle. Despite excessive allowances, and hired expatriates who are co-managing government agencies, prices for goods and services continue to go up. So would the leasing of utility entities such as the National Port Authority and Liberian Electricity Corporation yield better dividend?

Second guessing a proposed result of a new theory without the details is difficult. Nonetheless, if one understands the motive of any capitalist, which is to maximize profits, it is reasonable to assume that government will get a raw end of the deal. It is also predictable that few Liberians will gain enormous benefits, repeating past mistakes. As Pope Benedict XVI stated, “once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end,” which is always the case, “it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty.”

If maximizing profits would create poverty, why is President Sirleaf instituting capitalism? Well, an investigation of Liberia’s economic system would have been a good beginning in the process of identifying an economic model. Additionally, a thorough investigation would identify the real culprits responsible for the killings of Presidents William R. Tolbert and Samuel K. Doe. Such efforts would not only forge unity between and, or among ethnic groups, but it would help political alliances to prevent or deter exploitation. Again, if divide and conquer is part of the means capitalists use in maximizing profits, it is not in President Sirleaf's interest to pursue a project that would undermine capitalists that will finance her 2011 presidential campaign. So, it is not hard to see why President Sirleaf is holding on to a dying doctrine, even when the Holy Pope and billionaire Soros are abandoning the wrecked wagon.

© 2009 by The Perspective
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