The big year for Pope Francis has culminated with being named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. There is a lot to admire about the man…see I Knew Pope Francis Was Good, But When I Found Out Everything He Did in 2013, I Was Blown Away.
Yet, the major blemish for me is his penchant for pontificating on economics and admonishing capitalism. Any good he could potentially accomplish by inspiring people to act more selflessly would be more than offset by the misery and grinding impoverishment that would result if the Pope is able to persuade major governments to adopt his economic policies.
Plenty has been written on the Pope’s economic ignorance so I won’t offer my own opinion, instead I’ll just provide some links:
- Jason Brennan talks about how Jesuits tend to study Marxist economics in graduate school.
- Shikha Dalmia on the Pope’s repeated anti-capitalist rants
- Greg Mankiw takes issue with the Pope using the pejorative “trickle down economics”.
- Fernando Teson on the Pope’s statism.
- Article in The Atlantic using charts to show the Pope’s dystopian view of capitalism is way off.
- Mario Rizzo on the Pope’s foray into economics.
Rizzo in particular nailed it when he wrote:
If we move beyond Jesus’ exhortations to individuals about their moral behavior to papal exhortations about government policies to achieve the goal of eliminating or reducing avoidable human suffering, a scientific dimension is added. Policies have consequences, often unintended. The social interaction of people is more than the acts of people taken individually. There are complexities in these cases subject to scientific analysis.
The ultimate normative goals of action can be based on a religious insight or commitment. (I prefer to say on ethics.) But the means chosen to attain those goals are in large part a scientific question. Thus the proximate goals of action are largely in the domain of science. (An exception is where the means are considered intrinsically evil.)
The point is that policies are means to ends. They are not decrees about how the world should be. They can succeed or fail to achieve the desired moral ends. They can have consequences more undesirable than the problems they purport to solve. It is hard to see what the Church can authoritatively add to these discussions. Issues like income redistribution, globalization and financial speculation, however, are either above or below the papal pay grade. As Jeremy Bentham said about the state, the job is basically to “be quiet.”
Obviously, for a Church wanting to be relevant in its growth areas in poor, less developed countries, this might not be enough. And yet there is more it can say about the state’s use of coercion, of its violation of the basic principles of just conduct in the creation of crony “capitalist” economies, of its secrecy and lack of accountability, of the use of torture, of trafficking in slaves, and war. The Church has to its credit tackled many of these. It will be seen, I suggest, that in most of these areas governments or others are violating the fundamental principles of individual just conduct: lying, cheating, stealing, physically harming innocent individuals, failing to aid others in distress (as opposed to failing to coerce people to aid others in distress), and even the use of force where turning the other cheek would be appropriate.
But where social policy is concerned, fundamentally scientific issues are crucially involved and the Church has no greater teaching authority than the rest of us. To confuse matters by combining superficial scientific analysis with strictly moral teaching does neither the Church nor the world much good.