Pope Francis Is No Economist
We all hoped this guy would be different. Jorge Bergoglio’s spontaneous ruminations upon becoming Pope revealed a humble, loving heart. Too bad that in his formal writing the new Holy Father couldn’t resist biting the invisible hand that feeds a lot more poor people than the Vatican ever has.
Most of Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis’s first apostolic exhortation, is an ennobling call to the faithful. Ninety percent of its 223 pages make a learned and passionate case for why Christians should spend more time calling others to Jesus, a subject on which Pope Francis is truly an expert. His writing offers a joyful and inclusive spirituality that even this atheist can appreciate.
But when it comes to economics, the Pontiff’s expertise isn’t much to go by, judging by his ahistorical, populist attack on an economic system that has done more to alleviate poverty than a thousand Mother Theresas ever could.
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.
Never been confirmed by the facts? From which countries do the poor flee, and to which do they go? In which countries can the poor become rich, and in which are they doomed by birth to spend their lives in misery?
Where does the Pope think the money that maintain Vatican City’s splendor came from? Would he prefer to have his bills paid by feudal lords seeking indulgences rather than collect donations honestly earned by people creating wealth in a free market? Does he understand the difference between getting money and makingmoney?
It gets worse. Here he is quoting Saint John Chrysostom.
Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs.
The Pope may drive around in a modest Ford Focus , but does he wear blinkers around the Vatican’s fabulous displays of opulence? Who does more to feed and clothe the yearning masses of meager means, the Catholic Church or Walmart? Which has employed more of the poor in both developed and developing countries, giving them an opportunity to lift themselves up by their bootstraps?
In fact, wealth creation does not take from the poor. Rather, in many cases, it means employing the poor. In most cases, it means finding ways to produce goods and services more efficiently, making them accessible to more people, or producing entirely new goods and services that benefit humanity overall. In a free economy, people only get wealthy when customers value what producers create.
Today’s economic mechanisms promote inordinate consumption, yet it is evident that unbridled consumerism combined with inequality proves doubly damaging to the social fabric. Inequality eventually engenders a violence which recourse to arms cannot and never will be able to resolve.
Solidarity is a spontaneous reaction by those who recognize that the social function of property and the universal destination of goods are realities which come before private property. The private ownership of goods is justified by the need to protect and increase them, so that they can better serve the common good; for this reason, solidarity must be lived as the decision to restore to the poor what belongs to them.
This is not “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s.” It’s stick-‘em-up politics, plain and simple.
My advice to Pope Francis: Read Free to Choose before writing your next exhortation.