The Pope's Critique Of Capitalism Is Ill-Informed, Neglectful Of History, Contrary To The Laws Of Economics, And Ultimately Self-Defeating
By David Harsanyi
Pope Francis' first apostolic exhortation, "Evangelii Gaudium"
("The Joy of the Gospel"), is a beautiful document and a joy to
read. I'll leave its theological implications to those who live in
the Roman Catholic Church. What's got many people praising the pope
today, though, is not his plea for good works but rather his
critique of capitalism.You could always detect a pinch of socialistic seasoning in the
church's theological stew. But in this case, the pope doesn't
simply point out that the wealthy aren't doing enough to help
alleviate poverty. He uses the recognizable rhetoric of the
political left to accuse free market systems of generating and
nurturing that poverty.
The pope condemns the "new tyranny" of "idolatry of money,"
reasonably arguing that economic systems should not be accepted
with blind faith but also saying that "as long as the problems of
the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute
autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the
structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the
world's problems or, for that matter, to any problems."
For starters, it's troubling that the pope fails to make any
genuine distinction between Western poverty (terrible) and the
poverty of the Third World (unimaginably terrible). But is it
really true that "absolute autonomy of markets and financial
speculation" are the driving reasons for poverty and inequality?
People in places such as Congo, Burundi and Mozambique live under
corrupt authoritarian regimes where crippling poverty has a
thousand fathers — none of them named capitalism. The people
of Togo do not suffer in destitution because of some derivative
scheme on Wall Street or the fallout from a tech IPO.
"While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially,"
the pope goes on to say, "so too is the gap separating the majority
from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few."
In truth, global inequality has been dropping for years. The
World Bank estimates that global poverty was halved from 1990 to
2010. In fact, according to the World Bank, the United Nations'
"millennium development goal" of cutting world poverty in half by
2015 came in five years ahead of schedule, despite a major global
recession. The decline in poverty coincides, not coincidentally,
with developing nations embracing more market-based systems.
Moreover, the pope falls into the trap of conflating inequality
and poverty. Some countries enjoy income parity because most
citizens are rich, and others do so because most citizens are poor.
Put it this way: Egypt, Pakistan and Mongolia all enjoy more
economic equality than the United States. The gross domestic
product per capita here is $49,800. In Argentina, the pope's
homeland, a place where wealth is more fairly distributed, it's
Now, no reasonable person believes that any economic system is a
cure-all. But how many reasonable people argue that market-based
economies — and the underlying morality that drives them
— haven't done more to alleviate poverty worldwide than any
other system? For the most part, in fact, the more unfettered a
nation's economic system is the more prosperous the population
becomes and, consequently, the more it spends on charity and safety
net programs. When we match up The Heritage Foundation's Index of
Economic Freedom with the World Bank's measure of per capita
income, we find that the countries with the most unencumbered
systems and the most financial "speculation" usually have the least
amount of poverty.
Rather than credit those who do their best to balance this
imperfect system that lifts millions out of impoverishment, the
pope attacks them for the prevalence of imaginary economic
Darwinists who callously keep equality from blooming.
"Consequently," these people "reject the right of states, charged
with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of
control," Pope Francis contends.
Any form of control? Really? The Federal Register in this
country regularly comes in at more than 60,000 pages. Or, to put it
another way, it's longer than all 46 books of the Old Testament,
the 27 books of the New Testament and every gospel the Council of
Nicaea decided to toss, combined. And the United States, a place
teeming with these economic Darwinists, also happens to be one of
the most charitable places on the planet — even before we
begin counting per capita spending on safety nets.
The Pope's Bad Grasp of Basic
Where are his priorities?
By Judge Andrew Napolitano
What is the worst problem in the world today? Might it be war,
starvation, genocide, sectarian violence, murder, slaughter of
babies in the womb? Any of these would be a rational answer. But
when Pope Francis was asked this question recently, he replied,
To be sure, youth unemployment is a serious problem. In some
parts of the United States, the richest country in the world, it
has reached 25 percent. These are people who are no longer in
school full time and are not yet 30 years of age. It is a problem
for them and their families, for their communities, and for the
welfare states that are supporting them. But is it the worst
problem in the world? Is it a problem for the Roman Catholic
Church? And is it something the Pope is competent to comment upon
or to resolve?
The Pope's youth unemployment comments recently were removed
from the Vatican's website. No sooner had that been done than the
Holy Father issued his first encyclical: a formal papal teaching,
as opposed to his now famous impromptu back-of-the-plane yet
His encyclical is about economics, and it reveals a disturbing
ignorance. I say this with deference and respect. I also say this
as a traditionalist Roman Catholic who laments the post-Vatican II
watering down of sacred traditions, lessening of moral teaching and
trivialization of liturgical practices. But I also say this as a
firm believer that Pope Francis is the Vicar of Christ on Earth
and, as such, personifies the teaching authority of the Church. He
is morally and juridically capable of speaking ex cathedra -- that
is, infallibly -- but only after surveying and distilling
traditional Church teachings and only on matters affecting faith
Thank God, so to speak, that his teaching authority is limited
to faith and morals, because in matters of economics, he is wide of
His encyclical, entitled "Joy of the Gospel," attacks free
market capitalism because it takes too long for the poor to get
rich. "They are still waiting," the Pope wrote. Well, without
capitalism, which rewards hard work and sacrifice, they will wait
forever. No economic system in history has alleviated more poverty,
generated more opportunity and had more formerly poor people become
rich than capitalism. And the essence of capitalism goes to the
core of Catholic teaching: the personal freedom of every person.
Capitalism is freedom to risk, freedom to work, freedom to save,
freedom to retain the fruits of one's labors, freedom to own
property and freedom to give to charity.
The problem with modern capitalism—a problem that escaped the
scrutiny of His Holiness—is not too much freedom, but too little.
The regulation of free markets by governments, the control of the
private means of production by government bureaucrats, and the
unholy alliances between governments, banks and industry have
raised production costs, stifled competition, established barriers
to entry into markets, raised taxes, devalued savings and priced
many poor out of the labor force. The Pope would do well to pray
for those who have used government to steal freedom so as to
satisfy their lust for power, and for those who have bowed to
government so as to become rich from governmental benefits and not
by the fruits of their own labors.
Traditional Catholic social teaching imposes on all of us a
moral obligation to become our brothers' keepers. But this is a
personal moral obligation, enforced by conscience and Church
teaching and the fires of Hell—not by the coercive powers of the
government. Charity comes from the heart. It consists of freely
giving away one's wealth. It is impossible to be charitable with
someone else's money. That's theft, not charity.
If you give until it hurts, freely and out of love, and seek
nothing temporal in return, you have built up treasure in Heaven.
But if the government takes from you and redistributes your wealth
to those whom the government has decided to benefit—rich and poor
alike—what merit is there in that for you? If you give a poor
person a fish to eat, in a day, he'll be hungry. If you show him
how to catch fish and teach him how to acquire the tools needed to
do so, he can become self-sufficient and perhaps one day rich
enough to help others. If the government takes money from you to
buy the person a fish, half of the money will be wasted.
The Pope seems to prefer common ownership of the means of
production, which is Marxist, or private ownership and government
control, which is fascist, or government ownership and government
control, which is socialist. All of those failed systems lead to
ashes, not wealth. Pope Francis must know this. He must also know
that when Europe was in turmoil in 1931, his predecessor Pius XI
wrote in one of his encyclicals: "(N)o one can be at the same time
a sincere Catholic and a true Socialist."
The Church does not teach just for today, but for the life of
man on Earth. That's why the essence of the Papacy is not
contemporary problem solving, but preservation of truth and
continuity of tradition. For this reason, Popes do not lightly
contradict their predecessors. If it was sacred then, it is sacred
Timothy Cardinal Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, recently
discovered serious structural problems with St. Patrick's Cathedral
that will cost $200 million to repair. He will soon have that bill
paid. Where did that money come from? It came from the disposable
income of rich Catholic capitalists. Who will benefit from this?
The blue-collar workers whom the restoration project is employing
now have jobs, and everyone—rich and poor—who attends Mass at the
refurbished St. Patrick's will do so in comfort and beauty.
What shall we do about the Pope and economics? We should pray
for his faith and understanding and for a return to orthodoxy. That
means Holy Mother Church under the Vicar of Christ—saving souls,
The Pope's Self-Defeating Anti-Capitalistic Rant
He shouldn't bite the hand that feeds the Church
By Shikha Dalmia
Pope Francis doesn’t have to thank capitalism, a system that has
done far more to alleviate poverty, his pet crusade, than the
institution he leads. But he should at least stop demonizing it—not
least because it enables the very activity that he cherishes most:
For about the 6th time since assuming office eight
months ago, the Pope last week offered a sweeping condemnation of
“unfettered” capitalism, blaming its alleged obsession with the
“golden calf” for perpetuating poverty, oppression, tyranny and
The Pope claims that the “opinion” that “economic growth,
encouraged by the free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing
about greater justice and inclusiveness” has “never been confirmed
by the facts.” (He obviously hasn’t been listening to Bono, which isn't entirely a bad thing.)
Therefore, governments “charged with the vigilance of the common
good” must take strong steps to “exercise any form of control,”
including redistributive taxes, to stop the march toward a society
where “those excluded are no longer its underside or its fringes or
its disenfranchised—they are no longer even part of it.
No doubt such purple prose about “exclusion” will gain him
adoring fans among the left—notwithstanding the irony that he is
speaking for an institution that excludes half of
humanity—women—from the ranks of priesthood. But is capitalism the
cause of poverty and is redistribution the cure?
No and Nyet.
Poverty is the default condition of humanity. It is the given.
What needs explaining is wealth. And the greatest engine of wealth
creation is the market. By raising productivity and lowering the
price of goods, markets certainly help the rich, but they help the
poor more. Capitalism’s most impressive achievement, Joseph
Schumpeter noted, was not providing more silk stockings for the
Queen, “but in bringing them within reach of factory girls.”
Indeed, far from promoting Social Darwinism that thrives on “the
survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the
powerless,” as the Pope claimed, capitalism does the opposite: It
fosters economic competition among producers so that consumers
don't have to compete for scarce goods. In 1900, it took an average
worker in the West about an hour to earn a half a gallon of milk.
In 1930, half an hour. And today? Scarcely a few minutes.
If all the profits of the rich in America were handed over to
economic historian Deirdre McCloskey, the workers would only be 30
percent better off. “But in the last two centuries we’re 3,000
percent better off.”
But capitalism hasn’t only produced gains in the West. Between
1990 and 2010, the number of people in extreme poverty as a share
of the total population in developing countries has been cut in
half from 43 percent to 21 percent—a reduction of one billion
people. Why? Because China and India jettisoned Big Government
Socialism, the very thing the Pope advocates, and liberalized their
It is no exaggeration to say that charity is a balm for poverty
but capitalism is the cure—or in Bono’s evocative mixed metaphorcapitalism’s “job creators and
innovators are the key, and aid is just a bridge."
Indeed, without capitalism, even this balm would be in short
supply or this bridge too short.
Capitalism puts more discretionary income in the pockets of
people to devote to charitable pursuits. It is hardly a
co-incidence 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