10 July 2015

Pope Francis Continues Tradition of Papal Confusion

This week the pope apologized for the Catholic Church's role in the exploitation of the people of the Americas. That was nice. 500 years late but still nice.

Then he spoke out against a new colonialism. What is that? It's capitalism, which he believes is fostering inequality and exploiting the poor. His criticism of markets is something that some future pope will be left to apologize for. Hopefully it won't take centuries.

Popes seemingly make a habit of being wrong.

Markets are hardly perfect but they make life better for most people most of the time. This last decade has been a rough one. It included the worst global recession in nearly a century. But even then, markets made life better.

Between 2001 and 2011, the percentage of the world's population living in poverty - defined as living on $2 a day or less - dropped by half. Markets are not increasing the rate of poverty. They're lowering that rate. And it is this force that the pope speaks out against?

The pope is the world's last absolute monarch. The centuries when this power actually extended over most of Europe (and not just the Vatican, an area of land smaller than the average Ted Turner ranch) was called the Dark Ages. It was a time of misery, ignorance, intermittent starvation, abject poverty and a life expectancy of less than 30 years. Compared to today, it was a living hell. This is the kind of world you get without markets and the pope has the audacity to criticize the economic force that supplanted that system.

We do need someone to speak out for the poor. Markets don't make life better for everyone. Religion, charities, aid programs, and government programs can help the poor who markets ignore. Someone like the pope would seem like a natural spokesperson to speak out on their behalf. But to insist that the fruits of powerful markets be more widely shared is very different from criticizing powerful markets. It is one thing to ask for more porridge and another to spit in the serving bowl.

The pope has the authority to speak out on behalf of the poor. If the pope were an authority on economics, the time when popes ruled the West would be known as a time of Enlightenment and prosperity instead of the Dark Ages.


Anonymous said...

What bugs me about the Catholic church- and this is one of the main reasons I left it- is that it's big on feel-good generalities but short on specifics. John Paul II wrung his hands and issued "Oh, dear, war is bad" kind of statements when the US invaded Iraq, but never once put his foot down and said "Catholics can't participate in this one."

Okay, so Francis says markets are "bad," equality is "good." Great, now what? Divest? Join unions? Send all the investment bankers to confession?

Or shall we all just wring our hands and pray that things change all by themselves?

Ron Davison said...

That's a really interesting point. Should all the impoverished workers go on strike? Will the church sell art to help fund their grocery bill for a few months?