Mark tells us that Jesus said, in chapter 14, 7 “For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.” And if that isn’t enough, our governments will redefine what it means to be poor to make sure enough remain so to justify the bureaucracy. Funny how that works, isn’t it?
Luckily for us the Pope wants to make sure, as well. Actually, that’s unfair because it’s not only the Pope, I’ve heard the same poppycock from the Anglicans, from many Lutherans, and most of the rest of the so-called Christian church. Recently, Pope Francis spoke at the World Meeting of Popular Movements, in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
Dylan Pahman had some thoughts on what he said, which I agree with.
Pope Francis boldly calls for “change, real change, structural change.” What change would Pope Francis like to see? He makes this clear: “It is an economy where human beings, in harmony with nature, structure the entire system of production and distribution in such a way that the abilities and needs of each individual find suitable expression in social life.” So far so good. Who doesn’t want that?
So what stands in the way, according to the pontiff?—“corporations, loan agencies, certain ‘free trade’ treaties, and the imposition of measures of ‘austerity’ which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor.” Really?
Business, credit, trade, and fiscal responsibility are marks of healthyeconomies, not the problem, popular as it may be to denounce them. Indeed, these are also marks of economies that effectively care for “Mother Earth,” whose plight the Pope claims “the most important [task] facing us today.” That’s right, more important than the plight of the poor, to His Holiness, is the plight of trees, water, and lower animals.
That moral confusion aside, is there any way we could study what policies correlate with the Pope’s laudable goals? As it turns out, there is. The United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) ranks countries based upon an aggregate rating of economic growth, care for the environment, and health and living conditions—precisely the measures the Pope seems to care most about. Yet of the top 20 countries on the most recent HDI ranking, 18 also rank as “free” or “mostly free” on the most recent Heritage Index of Economic Freedom.
The only two exceptions were Liechtenstein, which wasn’t ranked at all by Heritage, and France, which was ranked 20th of the 20 according to the HDI, and which once was far more economically free. The takeaway? Nearly all of the top countries that have the sort of economies the Pope wants are also characterized by fiscal responsibility, openness to trade, accessible credit, and generally business-friendly environments. That is, precisely the policies that the pope decries.
Now, it might be unfair of me to criticize Francis for not being an economist . . . or, for that matter, not even being familiar with the basic conditions of economic growth taught in any Econ 101 course. At least hedidn’t forget to mention Jesus. But it shouldn’t be controversial to say that he is still speaking outside of his competence and vocation. It is one thing to call attention to the moral roots of economic problems; it is another to pass judgment upon which prudential policies are the best means to moral ends.
I mostly refrain from bashing the Pope on economics, for two reasons: Firstly: He’s a priest, a pastor, and I suspect a good one, that doesn’t require a good (or even indifferent) economic education. And Secondly: he’s from a part of the world where the writ of the law does not run, where like in Medieval France, the word of the King (despot, strongman, whatever) is the law, and economic freedom cannot exist without security of property, which if we are not careful, we in the United States and the United Kingdom may be about to learn, as our governments become increasingly unlawful.
In any case, Saint Pope John Paul II said in the 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus:
Can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this the model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path to true economic and civil progress?
The answer is multi-faceted, but he cautiously answered yes, proposing that the free economy “ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World.” Far too many of these countries, including Latin America, are still waiting. And Pope Francis is increasingly part of the problem, not the solution.