Some excellent observations on the Pope’s indictment of Capitalism have been made by Kevin D. Williamson writing for National Review. He points out that a distrust of individuals but a total trust of the state is a dangerous position to take and it is one that can backfire on you. Individuals free to interact with individuals provide the best guarantee of liberty. Giving up those individual liberties and handing them over to the state in order to guarantee them and make them better is not only something that has historically not worked but is also putting yourself in the hands of an unknown protector. In today’s America our guaranteer of Liberties is Barrack Obama who thumbs his nose at the Constitution while trampling on people’s personal religious freedom and rights.
The notion that the pursuit of power is somehow less selfish than the pursuit of money found its way into Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium, in which the pope rehearses some ancient Catholic criticisms of market liberalism that have excited anti-capitalists throughout the world, who are always eager for any scrap of economic encouragement from an institution and a man with views they otherwise detest utterly. The pope writes critically of what he calls a “selfish ideal”:
One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. . . . They reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.
As the chief executive of the largest and most successful institution in human history, Pope Francis naturally takes an institutionalist view of things; like all of his predecessors, at least so far as I am aware, he fails to appreciate that the actual result of the free-market economy is not to transfer power away from states to corporations but from states and corporations to people. The “truly human purpose” he seeks may be found in many millions of households in poor countries, where bellies are more full and roofs more secure than they were a generation ago, owing mainly to the expansion of global trade. The pope writes that it is an error to believe that “economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.” This is true. But then, neither will the building of churches, legislatures, or courthouses. People still have to be good. But it is easier to feed the Lord’s sheep where food is plentiful.
The pope is a very good man, and what very good men have in common with very bad men is that they tend to assume that the world is full of men who are similar to themselves. Thus, his rhetorical reliance upon “states, charged with vigilance for the common good,” an aspirational sentiment rather than a factual statement. States should act in the public good, but there is that problem of selfishness, which everybody sees in the market but overlooks in politics.
Political self-interest is no less selfish than is economic self-interest, and states have something more dangerous than even the most ruthless operator in a free market: coercion. Pope Francis might consider the case of President Obama, whose vision of the public good includes millions of federally subsidized abortions, and ask himself whether “vigilance for the common good” explains what politics is or what he wishes it were. The longstanding Catholic skepticism of economic liberalism is one of the last remnants of the Church’s skepticism of liberalism in toto, Rome having given up explicit denunciations of things such as the freedom of conscience (cf. Ubi Primum) some time ago.
It is natural that a man who sees the world the way Barack Obama sees it would view all power relationships as zero-sum: If somebody else gets a little more power, he has a little less. But there is no reason for Pope Francis to take that view. If ever the Church’s economic thinkers get over their 19th-century model of the relationship between state and market, they might appreciate that spontaneous orders and distributed economic forces could produce some truly radical outcomes in a world in which a billion or more people shared a vision of justice and mercy. The pope’s job in part is to supply that vision; unhappily, the default Catholic position seems to be delegating economic justice to the state, under the mistaken theory that its ministers are somehow less selfish than are the men who build and create and trade for a living rather than expropriate. Strange that a man who labored under the shadow of Perón has not come to that conclusion on his own. (1)
(1) The Problem of Selfishness
Political self-interest is no less selfish than economic self-interest.
- The Pope Disses Capitalism (lexingtonlibertarian.wordpress.com)
- Pope Francis rips capitalism and trickle-down economics to shreds in new policy statement (rawstory.com)
- Pope Francis Slams Neoliberalism In First Major Writing Of Papacy (news.firedoglake.com)
- Vatican Goes From Anti-Communism To Anti-Capitalism (theatlantic.com)
- Pope Francis calls capitalism “new tyranny” calls on leaders to fight poverty (irishcentral.com)
- Pope Francis Rejects Trickle-Down Economics, Calls Unfettered Capitalism “A New Tyranny” (classwarfareexists.com)
- Hey, Pope Francis: Markets are the solution, not the problem (theweek.com)
- Pope Francis Attacks Capitalism, Calls for State Control (breitbart.com)
- The Road to Serfdom (.pdf version) (joseywales1965.wordpress.com)