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A Tea Party Catholic View on Pope Francis Economics

A Tea Party Catholic View on Pope Francis Economics

The last time I wrote about the Catholic Church, the church had selected its new pope.

And, as anticipated, the first pope from Latin America is shaking things up at the Vatican and around the world.

However, I was a bit surprised that Pope Francis would so soon be engaged in an economics debate with Rush Limbaugh, triggered by the recently released 84-page “apostolic exhortation” Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) that “attacked unfettered capitalism as a new tyranny” and seems to be a laundry-list of progressive dream programs. Gateway Pundit has a clip of Limbaugh’s original comments and the papal response.

Today Pope Francis responded saying, “The Marxist ideology is wrong.” But, then he went on to attack free-market “trickle-down” economics. (Via Vatican Insider)

Some of the passages in the “Evangelii Gaudium” attracted the criticism of ultraconservatives in the USA. As a Pope, what does it feel like to be called a “Marxist”?

“The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”

Here’s the point I want to make:

Like most Catholics, I don’t go to church to get my politics or economics. I became Catholic in 2010, in response to my involvement with the Tea Party movement (needing both strength and humility to maintain a proper perspective). In fact, my sponsor is an old-fashioned, FDR-embracing, ex-Berkeley professor progressive who has been trying to exorcise my capitalistic tendencies for years…to no avail.  So, while interesting, the Pope’s remarks aren’t going to transform me, either.

But, while I was pretty certain Pope Francis was probably going to be a social justice crusader, I was very curious to get a comprehensive analysis of his “apostolic exhortation,” Evangelii Gaudium. Surely, he couldn’t have gone “complete communist”!

Happily, Samuel Gregg, director at the free-market oriented Acton Institute and author of Tea Party Catholic has written an excellent review.  As I suspected, a careful read shows there is a lot less there than meets the progressive eye.

Personally speaking, I don’t find discussions of wealth distribution to be bothersome at all. Catholics, other Christians, and other people of good will should, in my view, enter enthusiastically into such debates. Because it is precisely through these conversations that it can be pointed out that — as Evangelii Gaudium seems, alas, unaware — many poverty-alleviation methods that involve redistribution (such as foreign aid) are increasingly discredited.

As the economist and historian of the Federal Reserve Allan Meltzer put it, one of the 20th century’s economic lessons is that “transfers, grants and redistribution did little to raise living standards in Asia, Latin America and Africa.” In other words, the standard wealth-redistribution policies that are often regarded as indispensable to poverty alleviation have failed to achieve their goals. Hence it behooves all Catholics to ask ourselves why such approaches have failed if we’re going to have a serious conversation about wealth and poverty in the modern world.

My critique is by no means intended to imply that all of Pope Francis’s observations about economic life are naïve or simply mistaken. As it happens, he says several things that will resonate with those who favor free enterprise and markets. The pope states, for instance, that welfare projects should be seen as “temporary responses” (202) and warns against the “welfare mentality” (204). Evangelii Gaudium extols “free” and “creative” work (192). Francis also affirms that business “is a noble vocation” that serves “the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all” (203).

…And yet for all these and other observations, it is difficult not to come away from reading Evangelii Gaudium thinking that there are just too many unexamined assumptions about the economy that have made their way into this document.

Gregg makes a good point: Pope Francis is in the market for souls. Subsequently, this could be a wonderful learning opportunity for him, as well as other clergy (like my priest who occasionally regales us with quotes from Maya Angelou). In fact, New York Times editorialist Ross Douthat has three points that should be stressed when discussing the subject with fellow Catholics:

First, that when it comes to lifting the poor out of poverty, global capitalism, faults and all, has a better track record by far than any other system or approach.

Second, that Catholic social teaching, properly understood, emphasizes both solidarity and subsidiarity — that is, a small-c conservative preference for local efforts over national ones, voluntarism over bureaucracy.

Third, that on recent evidence, the most expansive welfare states can crowd out what Christianity considers the most basic human goods — by lowering birthrates, discouraging private charity and restricting the church’s freedom to minister in subtle but increasingly consequential ways.

If you are like me, a Catholic who embraces capitalism and charity, this is the perfect time of year to spread the “good word” and help Legal Insurrection: Order “Tea Party Catholic” and “The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy” from this site, and give them to your favorite priest or fellow Catholic for Christmas.

If you are feeling “extra giving,” donate to the Acton Institute in their names as well!

God bless us, everyone!

(PS. The editors of Time Magazine, who selected the pope as “Man of the Year”, are going to be in for a surprise when, despite progressive dreams, traditional stances on many social policies will be maintained. And, my sponsor will still be complaining about the lack of women in the priesthood…a dogma that I am far more sanguine about than she).

(Featured image credits: Vatican YouTube video / Rush Limbaugh YouTube video via CowgerNation)

 

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Comments

As a non-Catholic, I was more than a little disappointed that the new pope would uncritically repeat so much “liberation theology” twaddle. Being from South America, it was a recognized danger that Francis would have been infected with that false religion, and he appears to have done nothing by way of serious investigation into the economic dogma he was repeating.

On the other hand, some of what he said was laid down by Adam Smith, who was, in addition to being a profound thinker on economics, a very sound moral philosopher, as well.

Sorry, but the Pope cannot lecture me on how I need to be more charitable, seeing as how he lives in a building that is filled with priceless works of art. He has servants, body guards, rides around in a limo, and a gold toilet. In fact, the church’s holdings are worth so much money that it is impossible to calculate.
When the church sells off all of that wealth and donates the money to the poor, then maybe I will listen.

    Ragspierre in reply to divemedic. | December 19, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Dive, this pope does NOT use his limo, and has the Swiss Guards out doing charitable work around Rome.

    He is who he claims to be. He just needs to inform himself before pontificating on economics (see what I did there?).

The Catholic Church should pay for the Pope and his envoys to attend the institutes, seminars and programs offered by the Acton Institute. They can also listen to some of these are on YouTube.

Here is Acton Institute’s Reverend Robert Sirico’s talk at Hillsdale College:

http://youtu.be/zHHm2MqXe10

The pope’s missive is a hodgepodge of economic mumbo-jumbo that also lacks spiritual coherence.

I believe the thrust of his writing was to encourage evangelization and to prompt Catholics to forget about the issues that hang people up and to seek out the “lost.”

Evangelization is good but when you get the sheep in the flock and then fleece them for “social justice,” that is not good.

” But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people…” Sorry, but no. Replace Marxist(s)with Fascist, racist, or anti-semite and think about it. There is no moral or ethical difference.

NC Mountain Girl | December 19, 2013 at 9:56 am

Capitalism developed in a culture that evangelized the virtues of hard work, thrift, sobriety, sexual continence, cleanliness, neighborliness and good manners. It has been cut adrift from those very virtues in many parts of Western culture in recent decades. The result has been soul sapping conspicuous consumption and rampant cronyism.

I think many people misunderstand this Pope. He is trying to penetrate into the void inside that women who has 150 lipsticks with coordinating nail polish on her dressing table, multiple abortions on her medical record and who genuinely believes she is a compassionate, virtuous individual because she pays a lot of money for what’s been marketed to her as green products. That and she votes Democrat because Democrats say they want to help poor people.

Seems to me the Catholic Church has met many Nazis they liked, too, and even helped many escape Europe to South America after WW2. Were they also good people?

Anyone still believe in the Pope’s infallibility?

    JerryB in reply to mackykam. | December 19, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    Good article for a Catholic bash, eh? Pope Pius XII helped Jews escape, not Nazis. Our CIA via Operation Paperclip got the Nazi scientists out so we could use their “talents.”

    P.S. I’m Catholic, American, and of German descent. In that order.

The concept of “papal infallibility” refers only to doctrinal matters…plainly to to the realm of economics.

Pope Francis is in the market for souls

Well, that’s a change for the better. I remember when it was a market for the pants of altar boys.

Martin Luther was right and the Catholic Church is a cult.

BannedbytheGuardian | December 19, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Mengele was given sanctuary in Argentina . Imagine that .

The appointment of this uber emotional dullard is a pre empire bid to soften the blows when the documents finally are prised from the cold clammy hands of the Vatican & South American Cathie church.

Ratzinger did his job as only an Inquistion office holder could.

One day the storm will break.

The Pope could talk to obama about raising the tax break for more charitable donations. Snippet from 2009 article.

http://philanthropy.com/article/Obamas-Plan-to-Reduce/63024/

February 26, 2009
Obama’s Plan to Reduce Charitable Deductions for the Wealthy Draws Criticism

In a document outlining his 2010 budget plans, President Obama proposed limiting the value of the tax break for itemized deductions, including donations to charity, to 28 percent for families making more than $250,000. In other words, taxpayers would save 28 cents on their federal income taxes for each dollar donated.

That would reduce by as much as 20 percent the amount wealthy taxpayers could get in tax breaks. Under the current system, taxpayers who are in the 33 percent or 35 percent tax brackets use that rate to claim deductions.

Walter Williams has an excellent reply to the pope.

The pope is using leftist language, and that is a shame. It matters less where his mind is at than what he does to bolster the socialist wing of the Church.

What isn’t ever clearly stated anymore is that several popes unequivocally condemned Socialism and Communism, as well as defended the right to ownership of private property as inviolable. E.g., gov’t “redistribution” stands condemned on fundamental moral principles and is not subject to revision. A difference with Libertarians is that the popes condemn the idea that there is a right for one to do whatever one wishes with his property.

    Mark30339 in reply to JerryB. | December 20, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    Actually, the Williams piece was disappointing. This excerpt was puzzling: “First, I acknowledge that capitalism fails miserably when compared with heaven or a utopia. Any earthly system is going to come up short in such a comparison. However, mankind must make choices among alternative economic systems that actually exist on earth.”

    Those economic alternatives are filled with moral choices. Williams toots the USA charity horn by pointing out that Americans give more than other countries — but most of the remaining countries are atrocious givers or struggle under incredible poverty. We could cut back enormously on American luxuries and give far more time and treasure to those in need. That tension is here to serve and guide us, we mustn’t try to shake it off.

    The whole point of Catholic teaching on economics is to impose moral tension on prosperity. It is amazing how deaf and blind we become to the overwhelming proportion of impoverished people on the globe, when we live in middle or upper class.

    Even more amazing are the cries of the powerful who prefer to label the Pope’s message as leftist Marxism — and thus fail to acknowledge their smug contentment as winners in the profit game. Of course capitalism is the most effective process on production and consumption — but it needs to be led with moral integrity. There is no shortage of failures on that feature — and many places do present a tyranny where profit overrules basic human dignity. Our own capitalism tends to forget its past tyranny over children, http://www.historyplace.com/unitedstates/childlabor/index.html
    .
    Rush and others doth protest too much, methinks.

      JerryB in reply to Mark30339. | December 20, 2013 at 6:35 pm

      You didn’t get a sermon from Walter? Sorry. So you give us a sermon. Other folks aren’t giving enough to suit you? Oh, my.

      Your image looks like Mark Twain. I recall he said, “To do good is noble. To tell others to do good is even nobler and much less trouble.” Increase thy nobility!

      You say “It is amazing how deaf and blind we become to the overwhelming proportion of impoverished people on the globe …” I think that’s a bit short sighted. We’ve helped a good portion of the world to stay free and we’ve supplied technology and resources to many who would still be carrying manure in buckets, as the common folk do in China.

      Imagine what this world would be like without the USA. But, that’s Obama’s vision: 3rd-world hell holes, slave labor camps, death and squalor.

      No, the pope isn’t giving us Catholic morals, or he would use clear language. Like you, he blames the wealthy for poverty, as if economics is a zero-sum game. In that, he’s of the same mind as Obama.

      taxsage in reply to Mark30339. | December 21, 2013 at 7:43 am

      Hey Mark, I think JerryB just said “Twain, you ignorant slut!” Kind of odd too, he was busy calling out Catholic bashers and then told you to take your Catholic teaching and STFU.

I am a life long Catholic was extremely disappointed in the Popes statements. As Catholic President Kennedy said “a rising tide lifts all boats”. President Reagan liked that quote so much that he repeated it often because trickle down economics worked when JFK cut taxes and when Reagan did also along with regulations. I’m too young to know the effects of the tax cuts in the 60’s but I remember the booming economy that Reagan kicked off in 1982 that lasted for over 25 years. In the mid 80’s every fast food restaurant in Massachusetts was offering mothers hours 9-2 paying $8-$9 an hour when the minimum wage was only about $3.25 an hour. That was the only way they could fill those time slots because the labor supply was low and those looking for work had the upper hand, unlike todays economy where those with master degrees work for minimum wage at Mickey D’s. The Pope needs to cease commenting on economic political issues and stick to social ones. The first thing that goes in Socialist and Marxist nations is the church and our nation is speedily heading towards a Marxist one. I would love unfettered Capitalism but that was over a hundred years ago when the US had that.

    DaveyMills2013 in reply to styro1. | December 20, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Don’t be ridiculous. That would be $17-19 an hour today. Nobody was paying non-management fast food workers that kind of money in the 1980s. Unemployment shot up under Bush, and plunged to one of its all-time lows under Clinton. The days of “unfettered capitalism” you harken back to were the days of child labor and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Only someone who didn’t work during that time would romanticize it.

      Don’t tell me that’s ridiculous. At that time I was a truck driver and on McD’s, Burger King’s and others billboard signs were offering mothers hours at 8-9 dollars an hour. Their were articles written in the papers and on the TV news. My own mother had just started working a couple of years before as a housekeeper at the local hospital, after raising 4 kids, thought about applying to McDonalds for more money and closer to home. We just talked about it over Thanksgiving because of the news that Dems want to raise the minimum wage and my former Democrat mother, who voted for Carter in 1980, said Obama should follow Reagan’s policies and a minimum wage hike would be unneeded.

The Church of Rome lost its way a long, long time ago. This is just the latest manifestation of it. The Bishop of Rome would do well to stick to the doctrines of the Christian Church as found in Scripture, rid the Vatican of the homosexual lobby, and stop talking about matters on which he is plainly ignorant.

The social justice nonsense divorces the NT from the OT, and ignores vocation and work ethic replacing it with grievance and wealth redistribution. Well, the poor we have always with us, and the man who does not (in the sense of refuses to) work does not eat.

It’s been a long time since I listened to Rome on anything, but if the Roman bishop takes the time to discover the benefits of capitalism to his church’s mission and to consider that liberation theology is antithetical to mission and doctrine; if he remembers that, according to Scripture, there is no man good, no, not one, and that Marxists have caused the deaths of millions of people during the 20th century, then he might have something to say worth hearing. Until then. It’s vastly entertaining watching him okay to the gallery.

    DaveyMills2013 in reply to Juba Doobai!. | December 20, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    The problem you have is that he *is* preaching scripture. You need to read the words of Jesus Christ, your savior, and stop cherry-picking random bits of the Old Testament that fit whatever political notion you have. Again, read the words of Christ your savior. Believe it or not, the Pope is not saying Capitalism is a problem, but that it creates problems–such as inequality–that ought to be addressed by the winners of Capitalism. That’s not radical, and in fact has been the doctrine of Catholicism for ages.

      You say, “Believe it or not, the Pope is not saying Capitalism is a problem, but that it creates problems–such as inequality …”

      Yes, the pope thinks, like you, that economics is a zero-sum game, i.e., capitalism causes poverty. That’s not Scriptural. It’s just ideology, covetousness.

      Catholic teaching, e.g., Pope Leo XIII, condemned socialism, redistribution. The goal of economic policy should be to maximize participation, maximize private ownership. Some might call that capitalism. Maybe we need a better term?

      Juba Doobai! in reply to DaveyMills2013. | December 20, 2013 at 8:49 pm

      What part of “thou shalt not covet…” Don’t you and the Bishop of Rome get? Everyone works and get paid. Nobody should be forced to give away their money to address some bogus idea of inequality. Next thing you will want straight A students who work hard to earn their grades, to surrender a few A’s to lazy dunces to address academic inequality.

      You want it, earn it. Some people are able to earn more because they have a larger skill set or talent set. Don’t envy them. Don’t covet their possessions. Don’t demand they give to anyone.

One aspect of Pope Francis’ critique, something he was clearer on in earlier statements, is the action of the big banks in aggregating wealth via money manipulation and escalating debt. This isn’t capitalism, but theft. Here’s an article on what the Fed is up to.

David Stockman explains in clear language how the Fed has been stealing from working folks. I wish the pope could speak clearly like Stockman.

As a Catholic who even attended a seminary a high school freshman, this pope is very troubling. Over the years, I have come to question many assumptions about my faith, most importantly, the concept of “original sin” and how we are born evil cannot save ourselves without an intermediary. But I also fervently believe that Pope John Paul II was the greatest pope in history, certainly the greatest man of the 20th century. His “Culture of Death” is must reading yet so few have bothered to read it.

Be that as it may, Pope Francis is troubling to me because of his intellectual shallowness. I don’t support “unfettered” capitalism either but at least I know what that term means. The pope’s message offended many of us because he failed to make a distinction between capitalism and “unfettered” capitalism. We can see for ourselves what happens when unregulated “free” markets are allowed to spill over into the political arena only to acquire that power as well. We end up with an oligarchy where an impoverished democratic republic simply cannot compete against dirty money.

Compounding the problem are those daily photo-ops of him embracing the poor as if poverty itself is a virtue. Another Obama endearing himself to the poor by promising them other people’s money. Very unsettling. It is a cheap, trite gimmick. The vast majority of Americans are not so removed from poverty that they should feel guilty for not being poor. We see it for ourselves every day and most of us do something about it. If his message is intended to sensitize or shame the uber-wealthy into action, he is going about it a a very low-brow and tawdry manner. If feel like I am being lectured by a phony.

Pope John Paul II’s greatness was rooted in his worldliness and his having been instrumental in confronting two of the greatest evils in history: Nazism and communism, particularly the USSR. Pope Francis’ mind seems to be mostly influenced by a parochial experience of 3rd world poverty in a South America far removed from a free world that used to work when free markets were properly regulated and allowed to function properly.

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