Pope Francis attacked unfettered capitalism as “a new tyranny” and beseeched global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality, in a document on Tuesday setting out a platform for his papacy and calling for a renewal of the Catholic Church…
In it, Francis went further than previous comments criticizing the global economic system, attacking the “idolatry of money”, and urged politicians to “attack the structural causes of inequality” and strive to provide work, healthcare and education to all citizens.
He also called on rich people to share their wealth. “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills,” Francis wrote in the document issued on Tuesday.
“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?”
Francis said trickle down policies have not been proven to work and they reflect a “naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.”
“In this context, 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,” Pope Francis wrote.
“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,” the 76-year-old pontiff added.
All this would warm the heart of even the most fervent atheist, except Francis has gone much further. It seems he wants to do more than simply stroke the brow of the weak. He is taking on the system that has made them weak and keeps them that way.
“My thoughts turn to all who are unemployed, often as a result of a self-centred mindset bent on profit at any cost,” he tweeted in May. A day earlier he denounced as “slave labour” the conditions endured by Bangladeshi workers killed in a building collapse. In September he said that God wanted men and women to be at the heart of the world and yet we live in a global economic order that worships “an idol called money”.
There is no denying the radicalism of this message, a frontal and sustained attack on what he calls “unbridled capitalism”, with its “throwaway” attitude to everything from unwanted food to unwanted old people. His enemies have certainly not missed it. If a man is to be judged by his opponents, note that this week Sarah Palin denounced him as “kind of liberal” while the free-market Institute of Economic Affairs has lamented that this pope lacks the “sophisticated” approach to such matters of his predecessors. Meanwhile, an Italian prosecutor has warned that Francis’s campaign against corruption could put him in the crosshairs of that country’s second most powerful institution: the mafia.
For the second time this year, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is aligning with Pope Francis on global economic views…
Sanders says he continues to welcome Francis’ criticism of the global financial system, which both the senator and the pope say has plunged more of the world into poverty while benefiting the wealthy few.
“At a time when the gap between rich and everyone else is growing wider, at a time when Wall Street and large financial institutions are exerting extraordinary power over the American and world economy, I applaud the pope for continuing to speak out on these enormously important issues,” Sanders said. “Pope Francis is reminding people of all walks of life, and all religious backgrounds, that we can and must do better.”
Albeit in somewhat passive terms, the Church had made its political and economic position clear: It rejected communism, and specifically its suppression of religion, in favor of the West and democracy—which were tied tightly to free-market economic principles. Many years later, the Polish Pope John Paul II was given credit for helping to undermine communist rule in his country, where Catholic churches provided a space for anti-communist artists and thinkers to hold discussions and distribute anti-regime writings.
In light of this long-standing tension between the Church and communism, Pope Francis’s aggressively anti-capitalist posture seems all the more remarkable. The bishop of Rome hasn’t just condemned what he sees as a failed free-market—he’a condemned the ethic and ideology that underlie free-market economies. “The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase,” Francis writes. “In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”
This is more than just a lecture about ethics; it’s a statement about who should control financial markets. At least right now, Francis says, the global economy needs more government control—an argument that would have been unthinkable for the pope just 50 years ago.
It’s interesting to think of Pope Francis’ assessment in light of Pope John Paul II’s past condemnation of communism and the “social assistance state.” In 1991, he observed…
“In recent years the range of such intervention has vastly expanded, to the point of creating a new type of state, the so-called ‘Welfare State.’ This has happened in some countries in order to respond better to many needs and demands by remedying forms of poverty and deprivation unworthy of the human person. However, excesses and abuses, especially in recent years, have provoke very harsh criticisms of the Welfare State, dubbed the ‘Social Assistance State.’ Malfunctions and defects in the Social Assistance State are the result of an inadequate understanding of the tasks proper to the State. Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.
“By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending, In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them who act as neighbors to those in need. It should be added that certain kinds of demands often call for a response which is not simply material but which is capable of perceiving the deeper human need.”
[W]hat I think is curious about this document is a longstanding peeve of mine. Ever since the Galileo incident, the Catholic Church has generally tried to be careful to get its science right before it opines on ethical matters related to science. It takes seriously questions of bioethics and has developed internal expertise on those issues. Yet when it comes to economics, the Church seems to have no qualms about opining on issues of economics without even the slightest idea of what it is talking about.
I mean, seriously?
“204. We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality. I am far from proposing an irresponsible populism, but the economy can no longer turn to remedies that are a new poison, such as attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force and thereby adding to the ranks of the excluded.”
Well darn that John Paul II for helping to bring freedom to Poland and getting rid of all those “decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes” that were so beneficial to the Poles under Communism.
Capitalism does not breed poverty; it alleviates it. Compare the life expectancy of a medieval serf–rarely 30 years–to someone living in Western Europe today: Pope Francis, for example, who has reached the ripe old age of 76 thanks to modern medicine. He lived through the Cold War and its showcase of the obvious disparity between the United States, a land of economic “survival of the fittest,” according to Francis, and the Soviet Union. It was “a country with some of the most fertile land on the continent of Europe,” writes economist and TAS contributor Thomas Sowell, where the market principles that Pope Francis rergards suspiciously were abandoned, and as a result “at least 6 million people starved to death in the 1930s[.]”…
The pope, who recognizes in his exhortation the importance of economics, should keep in mind that the limited resources of the world could not possibly be allocated or “distributed” without some sort of system that allocates them efficiently, taking into account supply and demand, as well as scarcity and the difficulty of production and extraction: that is, prices. For someone who writes of others’ displaying “crude and naïve trust”, the pope sometimes betrays a rather naïve understanding of economics.
I don’t wish to stand in the way of people enjoying other people’s prejudices, but Francis’s hyperbolic rants about the role and allegedly dictatorial power of free markets are embarrassing in their wrongness. Cheering them on is like donating money to a Creationist Museum, only with more potential impact…
More people have escaped poverty the past 25 years than were alive on the planet in 1800. Their “means of escape” was largely the introduction of at least some “laws of competition” in endeavors that had long been the exclusive domain of authoritarian, monopolistic governments…
To look upon the miracles of this world and lament the lack of “means of escape” is to advertise your own ignorance. To call it a “tyranny” is to do violence to any meaningful sense of that important word (much like Francis’s predecessor did with his silly “dictatorship of relativism” crack). And to make such absolutist statements as “everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest” is to admit up front that you are not primarily interested in spreading truth, but rather in exciting popular passions. Which I suppose makes sense.
Troubling? Yes, and that’s probably too gentle a word. If this was just a discussion within the Roman Catholic church aimed solely at how its members should behave that, for the most part, would be up to them. But the pope’s words are rather more than that. In Francis, we see a charming and charismatic advocate (complete with large megaphone and the attention of a sizeable slice of the world) for economic policies of a type that have failed and failed and failed again, not least in the Argentina of his youth, the Argentina of Perón, the Argentina that he evidently still sees as some sort of model.
That’s not good news, nor is it likely to be the source of much joy.