Sunday, December 1, 2013

A misguided pope?

Pope Francis Attacks Capitalism, Calls for State Control

In a far-ranging 50,000 word statement released by Pope Francis on Tuesday, he illustrated that he is sympathetic to the tenets of liberation theology and hostile to capitalism. 

... Before the advent of  liberation theology, Catholicism hated socialism and communism, regarding them as “godless.” Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) wrote an entire encyclical condemning socialism.
But now Pope Francis seems to be embracing a condemnation of capitalism instead, and an embracing of socialistic principles.
Some of the Pope's conservative supporters, like Michael Coren, defend his rhetoric, saying that his critics misunderstand him:

I think Anthony Furey is closer to the truth, but even if you accept Coren's point of view the fact that so many on the loopy left just love what Pope Francis has to say is deeply problematic.  He's feeding them ammo.

About that quote from the Pope:
 His opinion of capitalism seems clear.  But he's dead wrong.  Free markets (under the rule of law) actually do "bring about greater justice and inclusiveness".  Everyone is free to participate, and if "justice" includes raising 100s of millions of people out of poverty, then the "facts" overwhelmingly favor free markets.

He's full of BS on everything else as well.  The "naive trust ... in the goodness of those wielding  economic power ..." he says has not benefited some ("the excluded are still waiting").

Capitalism excludes no one.  And what are they "waiting" for? The odds are that if they are waiting in poverty it's because they lack freedom and free markets, not because of capitalism.  One could just as well point to the Catholic Church, centuries old champion of the poor, as having failed those same supposedly "excluded" people.


Anonymous said...

Bravo! Sometimes even 'high forehead' folks get it wrong!

Anonymous said...

To be fair, Latin America has never really had a true free market where the government stays out and lets the market decide. Its either been socialist like today or crony capitalist (i.e. a dictatorship who lets all the American and European corporations run everything but makes it impossible to start up a local business) so they've never had a truly free market.

Some have said if Jesus Christ were alive he would be a socialist, but I am not so sure of that. For one that was 2,000 years ago so no one can make any assumptions on how he would react today.

JR said...

Anon, that's true, his experience is Latin America. But he's Pope now and if he doesn't understand what he's talking about he shouldn't be pontificating on it. Also you'd think that someone in the Vatican could critique his speeches and advise him on the error of his ways. Ignorance is no excuse.

I don't believe Jesus would be a socialist. His message was one of individual salvation. I don't think collective "salvation" is possible.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough and certainly the Catholic church is quite hypocritical in the sense they amass huge wealth. While he may live a humble life, his church sure doesn't. As for what Jesus would be that's anyone's guess is the world is such a different place from 2,000 years ago you really cannot assume anything.

But you are right that now living in Europe and seeing how a free market system albeit with a general welfare state can work you would think his views might be different.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that capitalism in and of itself leads to corporatism which leads to dictatorship like situations if it's unfettered. This is the mathematical outcome of economies of scale and the fact that wealth brings power with it. In an unfettered economy, sure, everyone is technically free to accumulate wealth, but the reality is, if everyone tried just as hard, inequality still eventually spirals out of control because of consolidation of wealth/political power by the largest entities. I can't think of many (any?) cases where this isn't the case.

@JR, one can certainly see where he's coming from, capitalism has a pretty ugly history in South America, but the ugliness/corruption is the RESULT of capitalism elsewhere anyways-- as I allude to above, the end result is always oppression of the less powerful by large actors. Capitalism has had successes, but it also has had, and continues to have colossal failures. These aren't always the result of overregulation or some other term that essentially means 'not enough capitalism'. Even Adam Smith advocated healthy hefty doses of regulation.

@anonymous at 8:34, last I checked, the austerity measures in Europe were absolutely dismantling economies where implemented. Europe right now is not a good poster child for the benefits of capitalism. (China ironically may be a better case)

I think the pope is speaking difficult truths to power, and we can disagree with elements of what he says, but his message still has a lot of value to it.

Anonymous said...

Actually if you look at the Heritage Foundation's rankings on economic freedom there is a strong correlation between free markets and high standard of living. Contrary to popular perceptions the Nordic Countries rank quite highly in economic freedom. They have a generous social welfare state but the economy is largely governed by the market not government intervention. In Southern Europe you still have a lot of corruption and those close to the government buying it off. That's crony capitalism, not capitalism in its truest sense. Likewise austerity has been mostly tax hikes as opposed to spending cuts. They've talked about spending cuts and privatization, but it's been just that.

JR said...

I think "capitalism" gets an unjustly bad rap in all this. It's being conflated with all sorts of evils that are independent of capitalism.

Capitalism is simply a system in which the main elements of an economy are held under private control and ownership. It evolved in societies that valued individual liberty which was necessary for free markets to flourish. A system of democracy and the rule of law are also necessary to guarantee individual freedom.

Societies (or nations) with weak systems of democracy, weak traditions of individual freedom and weak legal traditions are highly prone to corruption and tyranny. Many South American democracies are examples. The problem isn't capitalism it's the other things. Capitalism is no doubt used by political leaders in such places to enrich themselves and maintain their power, but the cause of the tyranny isn't capitalism. Also, the capitalism practiced in these places is probably more of the crony variety than it is "unfettered". Again this is due to weak democracy and poor rule of law, not "capitalism".

It's true that the accumulation of wealth can lead to undue influence and potential abuse of power by the wealthy. But with democracy and the rule of law this can be minimized (never eliminated - human beings are involved). Capitalism, like democracy, may have its flaws but it's the least worst system there is.

The Pope may be attempting to "speak truth to power" but his message is misleading. Capitalism isn't the "root cause" and he shouldn't be blaming it just because bashing capitalism has become popular among (mostly godless) leftist demagogues and their lazy, dimwitted boosters in the media.

Anonymous said...

Unfettered capitalism creates a concentration of wealth and power though, this is inherent to the system. There is no other outcome. High levels of wealth and power disparity leads inevitably to corruption-- it has a corrosive effect on governments and democratic infrastructure.

It may be that some of capitalisms successes go unacknowledged, but the bad rap is not entirely unjustified either-- I think you quite rightly point out that weak systems of democracy and weak traditions enable crony capitalism, and that with stronger democracies, stronger rule of law, the effects can be mitigated, but the core issue is that these things are eroded by disparity/concentration of wealth.

Strong democracies too often become weak ones, unfettered capitalism often gives way to crony capitalism.

If democracy ensures that the everyone has a say and a stake in the direction of a nation, how can it not be at odds with a system that, by its very architecture, results in the concentration of power, and enables the ability of an increasingly smaller number of people to have an increasingly disproportionate influence on said nation?

JR said...

Capitalism in most of the developed world is not at all "unfettered". To the contrary economies are in many instances over-regulated. Over-regulation leads to weaker economies, poor growth, lower tax revenue, greater poverty and also to crony capitalism.

How to strike the proper balance is difficult, but chasing egalitarian equality of outcome will produce undesirable results - less freedom and a lower standard of living for everyone.

The Pope needs to boost capitalism not bash it. He should reserve his condemnation for the sources of corruption and tyranny.