Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Economist: Skip Ryan, Read about the Church

I really wanted to set fire to this week's Economist--or better, the pants of the editor--as I watched them quaff a full beaker of Paul-Ryan-is-serious kool-aid: "athletic and brainy;" "a brave man" (link);  "a note of rare intellectual clarity" (link).  Oh meyo myo.  Let's settle for this, okay?   Paul Ryan may indeed be one of the few politicians to open a briefing book, but as Robert Waldman says, the best you can make of this is that it makes him a non-wonk's idea of what a wonk must be (I have my own doubts about whether a guy who spends that much time at the gym will ever have time for real wonkery, but that is perhaps a sidetrack).

So, shame on you, big E,  not really excused by the fact that your detailed (wonkish) coverage od of the Ryan "budget"  is actually pretty clear-eyed--proving only that your fatuous lead-in was less by way of ignorance and more on the order of actual misdirection.  But I will forgive give you this one time only for a bit of knockout redemption: that superb briefer on of the finances of the Catholic Church in the US.  Main takeaway: over and over again, the bishops engage in--and get away with-- stuff that would send them to the stony lonesome if they did them in the private sector, or at the very least, strip them of their employment or at least of their bankruptcy discharge.  Commingling assets, shell-game moving of assets, misuse of trust fund taxes--this is stuff that causes real trouble to real people even in the highly forgiving realm of private-sector corporate America but not, it seems, for those who are so securely wrapped in the cloth of sanctity.

Some of the E stuff is from public documents, thanks largely to the eight church bankruptcies of late.  Much else is the E's own guesstimate and  of necessity can't be any more reliable than guesstimates about Mitt Romney's taxes.   Still, even allowing a large margin for errors, the numbers help to create a context.  Example: the briefer pegs annual gross revenues at about $170 billion--bigger than General Electric, albeit with fewer than half the employees of Wal-Mart.  Perhaps the most striking datum is just how small potatoes (if the briefer is right) is the role of ordinary diocesan and parish work--only six percent, it says here, contrasted with some 57 percent for health care.  The corollary is the relatively small role occupied by ordinary Sunday offerings--a tad over 7.5 percent of gross revenues, if the guesses are right.  This offers a hint of the relative clout of the big donors like the Papal Foundation whose 138 members pledge to deliver $1 million each annually.

You get the drift. And I'm just rehashing stuff stuff already well said in the piece itself. If you've got a short list of long form stuff, put this one on it.  Re Paul Ryan, you'll do yours blood pressure a favor if you just look elsewhere.

1 comment:

Cameron Mulder said...

The Church article was pretty amazing.

I have never understood the reason that religious organizations are given non-profit status but are not held to the same standards as regular non-profits.