The pope’s words are ones that so far have been on the margins of the political debate. Many liberals here and abroad have challenged the wisdom of cutting taxes on the wealthy and shredding the social safety net, but few have condemned the prevailing economic orthodoxy of the last 30 years in such clear, moral tones.
Will our politics attempt to wrestle with the failure of our economic system to foster greater equality and opportunity? I believe it will; high unemployment, particularly among the young, and falling real wages are creating political disaffection and pressure unprecedented in my lifetime.
The pope’s words may prove prophetic; at the very least, he has put the emerging moral and political issue of our time on our table this Thanksgiving weekend.
Francis is a pope of surprises, a plainspoken, warm-hearted shepherd who has a habit of afflicting the comfortable even as he comforts the afflicted. In his wide-ranging apostolic exhortation this week, he pulls no punches, calling committed Catholics and nonbelievers alike to a searching examination of conscience…
The pope is pointed in his criticism of the tendency among Christians to take one aspect of the Gospel and run with it, to the exclusion of all others. Catholics who embrace the church’s social justice advocacy but evince embarrassment about the living faith that animates that advocacy come in for critique. So, too, do Catholics who embrace the moral teachings and liturgical traditions but ignore the needs of the poor and wind up trapped in “a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others.”
The truth is that Jesus’ teachings were so revolutionary that were he to preach today what he preached 2,000 years ago, many of the same preachers and politicians who claim to promote his values would be the first to call for him to be silenced.
Jesus did not preach income equality between the rich and the poor. He preached the complete reversal of the social order, wherein the rich and the poor would switch places…
While modern Christianity has tried to spiritualize this message of Jesus, transforming his revolutionary social teachings into abstract ethical principles, it is impossible to overlook the unflinching condemnation of the wealthy and powerful that permeate Jesus’ teachings…
Yet if these “culture warriors” who so often claim to speak for Jesus actually understood what Jesus stood for, they would not be so eager to claim his ideas for their own. In fact, they’d probably call him a Marxist.
The pope’s litany for action bears a compelling resemblance to the policy proposals of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and other progressive populists in the House, Senate and state houses and their counterparts in Europe and throughout the world.
Francis profoundly prays: “I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor!”
The statements by the pope offer a compelling indictment of the economic philosophy and policies of most Republicans, conservatives, Tea Party advocates and laissez-faire libertarians, who champion the wholesale dominance of the unbridled capitalism that the pope condemns.
If, however, Francis pursues his attack on the “new tyranny” of unfettered capitalism, he will need to draw upon and renew a deeper well of teaching about political economy — the 122-year tradition of modern Catholic social thought, in which the key figure is a more worldly thinker, Pope Leo XIII.
In the 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, Leo XIII pioneered the Catholic tradition of protesting that under capitalism “a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself.” According to Leo, the capitalist system was defined by “the callousness of employers and the greed of unrestrained competition,” including its drive to leave workers “isolated and defenseless.” The existing capitalist system was morally repugnant because it released individuals from their moral and social obligations. Socialism, on the other hand, was an overreaction to capitalism that violated the spiritual nature and rights of individuals. Leo pleaded that there had to be a decent alternative to predatory economics and collectivist economics.
More than a century later, we are still in the early stages of discerning what that would be.
The late Pope John Paul II argued that the church’s attitude towards capitalism was all down to how it was practised.
“Although decisively condemning ‘socialism,’ the Church, since Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, has always distanced itself from capitalistic ideology, holding it responsible for grave social injustices,” he said in 1993.
“(The church) recognizes the positive value of the market and of enterprise, but…at the same time points out that these need to be oriented toward the common good.”
In essence, no to Gordon Gekko, yes to Bill Gates…
“With Pope Francis, what we see is someone who lived in Argentina all his life, lived through a financial crisis and experienced what happens when markets make a country go under. He’s a non-Westerner reminding the West of what happens when markets go wrong,” Abigail Frymann, online editor of Catholic newspaper The Tablet, told CNBC.
Pope Francis doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. So there is no need for him today to thank capitalism, a system that has done far more to alleviate poverty, his pet crusade, than the institution he leads. But he should take a pause from railing against it — not least because it enables the very activity that he cherishes most: charity…
Capitalism puts more discretionary income in the pockets of people to devote to charitable pursuits. It is hardly a coincidence that America donates over $300 billion annually toward charitable causes at home and abroad, the highest of any country on a per capita basis.
The church itself is a big beneficiary of this capitalist largesse, with its U.S. wing alone contributing 60 percent to its overall global wealth. Some of this money comes from donations, but a big chunk comes, actually, from directly partaking in capitalism: The church is reportedly the largest landowner in Manhattan, the financial center of the global capitalism system, whose income puts undisclosed sums into its coffers.
So the new pope needs to be careful not to bite the hand that feeds his institution and its work. Otherwise, neither he nor the poor in whose name he is speaking will have much to be thankful for.
Conservatives — whether churchgoers or not — are not utopians, They understand market economies will never turn the world temporal into Paradise (while at the same time realizing that command-and-control economies have frequently produced a kind of hell on earth). Conservatives value the “safety net” to help those whom the pope calls the “excluded.” But conservatives also want to reform the safety net so more resources are devoted to raising the living standards of the truly needy rather than subsidizing the rich, moving the jobless toward work and self sufficiency, and increasing social mobility and equality of opportunity…
Conservatives embrace markets because they support a free society — but also because market economies produce the sort of prosperity that enables true human flourishing, one where we can better define our future as we see fit and achieve success on the basis of merit and hard work. After all, it was innovative capitalism — something the pope surely understands even if actual anti-capitalists don’t — that raised the average real income of the West over the past two centuries from $3 a day to $140. That might not qualify as a miracle, but it is surely a wonder — one that has given us lots better stuff and lots more opportunity to lead lives of deep fulfillment.
And progressives are kidding themselves if they think the pope was somehow embracing an Elizabethian (Warren) agenda of sky-high tax rates and an endlessly expanding welfare state. (Indeed, the pope denounced “a simple welfare mentality.”) How cramped an interpretation. Pope Francis’s vision transcends such parochial concerns. He is a global figure looking at crony capitalism in South America, massive youth unemployment in big government Europe, tremendous wealth disparities in state capitalist Asia, and deep poverty in Africa.
Conservatives clearly must defend free markets against the fatal conceit that big government knows best — that collectivism and redistribution are somehow more moral alternatives. History proves they are not.
But in the process of defending capitalism, we must also avoid even the appearance of a “greed is good” mentality — both in our hearts and in our rhetoric.
This begins at home. Just as we have a corporate responsibility, as individuals we must strive to be generous and compassionate. And while I don’t want to blame the victim, but the truth is that some of the liberal overreach has been invited by conservative people of faith who haven’t always acted according to their values.
Via the Daily Rushbo.