Thursday, January 17, 2008


Via Open Left I read that the Republican House Minority Leader, John Boehner, has issues with food that he can’t pronounce:

'...The presidential race is not the only place where change is an issue. Members of Congress returning to the Capitol this week are being confronted by transformational happenings that have shaken the building to its foundations: Democrats have hired a new company to run cafeteria services. Naturally, this has caused an outbreak of partisan skirmishing. "I like real food," proclaimed Republican leader John Boehner when asked about the new menu by a producer for another cable news outfit. [It was CNN] "Food that I can pronounce the name of."...'

While I certainly don’t find it surprising that a high-ranking Republican politician has major issues with things he is unfamiliar with or he can’t understand, and wants to go as far as complaining about it on National television with the aim of shutting the whole thing down, what struck me about the brief article was the following comment that he made:

'...The company that Nancy Pelosi and her people have hired has a mandate to "Go Green," complete with a mission statement posted outside the cafeteria on an eco-friendly LCD screen and a requirement to buy carbon offsets. Boehner doesn't think much of that either. "It reminds me of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, when we had indulgences," says Boehner of the offsets...'

Mr. Boehner is a Catholic, but one who apparently doesn’t understand his own faith. He refers to indulgences in the Catholic Church in the past tense, when in fact they are alive and quite well. What he may be talking about is the famous tradition of tying indulgences to financial transactions, which was officially outlawed by Pope Pius V in 1567 - Martin Luther and his hammering complaints on a door had something to do with that. But indulgences remain to this day.

What’s fun about indulgences is that they do still remain an inherently financial transaction, despite the official removal of money from the equation. The currency of indulgences is merits: through acts of prayer and penance one builds up a store of merits which can remiss certain types of punishment for sin; excess merits one has can actually be transferred to someone in need. The Catholic Church is allowed to give indulgences as well, though it doesn’t ‘earn’ them in the same way; instead the Church has what is referred to as the ‘Treasure House of Merit.’ This is a collection of merits (rather large, considering the Church’s history of handing them out) that the Church ‘inherited’ upon the deaths of the early church saints, who apparently had quite an excess of them.

And like money, and the carbon offsets that Mr. Boehner lambastes, this is a currency that ultimately has as its aim the modification of social behavior. Sin, as it were, has a price, which must be paid. What would be real fun would be to take merits and indulgences to the next level, develop a trading market for them, and derivatives based on futures as well. Perhaps Mr. Boehner could work on setting that up since he frowns on the same process for carbon offsets.