Here’s a headline you don’t see every day.  It is on today’s Fox6Now (Milwaukee) website.

Pope Francis’ Harley-Davidson sells for $327,000

In the story we learn that “The Dyna Super Glide, custom built for Pope Francis was delivered to the Vatican last June by Willie Davidson, the grandson of the company’s co-founder, marking the brand’s 110th anniversary.

“Signed by Pope Francis, the ‘holy’ bike went up for bids in Paris on Thursday, February 6th — as part of a vintage car and motorcycle auction.

“The auction house says bidders were so ‘hog wild’ — they ran out of phone lines to take the offers!

“After a six minute bidding war, the Harley sold for $327,000 — almost 20 times its estimated value.

“The money is going to the renovation of a hostel and soup kitchen based at Rome’s railway station.

“The auction house, which thought it would get $16,000 for the bike, says Pope Francis’ ‘blessing’ put the price through the roof!

“The bike was sold to an anonymous bidder. The Vatican hasn’t said whether the Pontiff ever rode it.”

I genuinely feel sorry for the Pope, who cannot enjoyed being associated with “hog wild” bidders for a Harley he didn’t purchase, even if the proceeds were used for a charitable purpose.  In his “Apostolic Exhortation” last November Pope Francis wrote some of the strongest words ever written by a major world figure about the evils of modern capitalism.

You can read a summary account in a November 26, 2013 Business Insider article by Joe Weisenthal here, or read the Pope’s words in the relevant section in the Apostolic Exhortation here.

Pope Francis writes “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.  This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”

For me, the only weakness of the Pope’s economic message is that the Catholic Church preferences the lives of human beings over any other planetary concern, but I have more faith in the Pope’s time horizon than I do in Larry Summers’, who in an interview yesterday on NPR’s On Point clings dangerously to the growth-as-gospel model.  The Summers time horizon for reasons and strategies to manipulate the economy at the governmental policy level is scarily short – “a few years” is the outside limit.

This is surprising in an economist of Summers’ stature, especially given his penchant for citing an aphorism of a former teacher of his.  In a Wednesday, January 23 interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (and previously) Summers remembers “The wisest aphorism I learned in graduate school, was [from] my teacher the late Rudi Dornbusch [who said] “things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could” – and then he goes on to cite a three-year time period from which we can learn from divergent approaches to economic stagnation practiced by Japan and Great Britain.  What the Pope, and many others, know is that three, or ten, or 100 years is an inconsequential unit of time when bumping up against planetary boundaries of resource development, extraction, and depletion, to say nothing of the unequal distribution of available and remaining resources.

“If every action has its consequences,” writes Pope Francis, “an evil embedded in the structures of a society has a constant potential for disintegration and death. It is evil crystallized in unjust social structures, which cannot be the basis of hope for a better future.  We are far from the so-called ‘end of history’, since the conditions for a sustainable and peaceful development have not yet been adequately articulated and realized.”

I never thought I would ever write these words, but on the economy, this Pope has his feet planted more in the world we live in than does Larry Summers.

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